There was a difference of opinion on accepting returning officer’s report as the final word or not. Finally the commission agreed to use video footage.
There was a difference of opinion in the Election Commission of India (ECI) over whether the returning officer’s report on the Rajya Sabha elections in Gujarat should be considered the final word on the matter, or if it should ask for video recordings of the polls, highly-placed sources said.
Congress veteran Ahmed Patel’s re-election to the Rajya Sabha was directly linked with the video footage of the polls that showed two rebel Congress MLAs displaying their marked ballots to an audience, in violation of the voting procedure.
On Tuesday, the returning officer (RO) had sent a report to the EC saying the polls had gone smoothly and had sought permission to begin the counting, despite complaints from the Congress. The party Wednesday also questioned the conduct of the RO.
Sources told ThePrint that there was a “difference of opinion” among senior officers of the commission about whether the RO’s clean chit to the election process should be accepted as the final view or if video recordings of the polling need to be sought from the RO.
Some officers argued against accepting the RO’s report as the final verdict, pointing out that the complaint from the Congress specifically mentioned that the commission can “verify the position by calling for video recordings for its own viewing”. The Congress candidate in the fray—Ahmed Patel—also sent an email to the commission with the same request.
In such a situation, if the EC were to just accept the RO’s report and not examine the video footage, questions could be raised about the impartiality and rigour of the EC.
Finally, the view on checking the video prevailed and around 6.30 pm on Tuesday, the EC sought the recordings. These were edited in Gujarat to show the relevant portions—in the presence of representatives from both political parties (BJP and the Congress)— and reached the EC by 8.15 pm. The commission’s officers were finally able to view the video around 9.30 pm after senior members from both parties had apprised them of their positions.
Once the video footage was examined, there was no doubt left about the violation of the voting procedure by the two MLAs — Bhola Bhai Gohil and Raghavji Bhai Parmar — sources in the EC told ThePrint.
The polling area had been videographed from three different angles to ensure that the election was completely monitored. In the video, the MLAs can be seen doing a near-180 degree turn to display their marked ballots to those seated on the other side—purportedly senior BJP leaders.
Rules 39A and 39AA of the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961, clearly state that the marked ballot paper of an elector can only be shown to the authorised representative of the political party to which he/she belongs.
Based on the video footage, the EC finally ordered the cancellation of the two votes, saying that from the “video recording of the votes cast by the said two MLAs… it has been observed therefrom that the said two electors violated the voting procedure and secrecy of the ballot papers cast by them when they exercised their right to vote”. (sic)