Gujarat effect: Election Commission to check truant MLAs in RS polls

Chief Election Commissioner Achal Kumar Joti.

Poll panel will go into the specifics of the polling area, define it in great detail to ensure there is no violation of voting procedure.

Anubhuti Vishnoi

The violation of the voting procedure by two Gujarat MLAs during the Rajya Sabha polls, despite the presence of the electoral staff, seems to have prodded the poll panel to rethink the way the elections are conducted to the ​upper house.​

Highly-placed sources told ThePrint that the Election Commission will review the entire layout and seating plan in the polling area following the Gujarat incident. The EC, the sources said, will go into the specifics of the polling area, define it in great detail, complete with dimensions and placement of electoral staff to ensure that there is no repeat of the kind of violation of voting procedure seen in Gujarat on 8 August.

The votes of two dissident Congress MLAs—Bhola Bhai Gohil and Raghavji Bhai Parmar—were cancelled by the EC after video recordings of the election clearly showed them violating the voting procedure. In the footage, the two 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 can only be shown to the authorised representative of the political party to which the elector belongs.

“Now that the Gujarat Rajya Sabha elections have brought to the fore the possibility of violations by an MLA…the EC will deliberate on the best possible way to ensure that no one other than the authorised party representative can see the marked ballot. We will be reviewing the polling layout and seating plan accordingly,” an official told ThePrint.

The 180 degree turn that compromised the secrecy of the voting procedure in Gujarat must be checked in all future elections, the official said.

 One of the ideas on the table is to have the MLA walk through a secure corridor-like system where no other political leaders are present .The MLA will walk through this corridor to the ballot box and the authorised party representative may be stationed next to it, so that after marking the ballot, he may show it to the representative alone to prevent a Gujarat-like recurrence.

After the 2016 mix up, the EC had worked out an elaborate module for voting even in the recent presidential and vice-presidential elections besides the Rajya Sabha polls to prevent violations. In  2016, Congress-backed candidate R.K. Anand lost to the BJP candidate in the Haryana Rajya Sabha polls after 14 Congress votes were found invalid on account of using the wrong pen to mark the ballot.

The poll panel, in the recent round of elections, ensured that only special EC-supplied pens with violet ink were used to mark the ballots. Each MP/MLA was asked to deposit their personal pens outside the polling room to ensure there was no deliberate or unintentional mix-up leading to vote cancellation.

 In the same election, Congress’ Randeep Surjewala’s vote was cancelled for showing the ballot to a Congress leader who was not the authorised party representative.

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