Gujarat RS polls: Things get tougher for the Congress as SC refuses NOTA plea
Engaged in a fierce political battle with the BJP over the Rajya Sabha polls in Gujarat, the Congress suffered a major setback with the Supreme Court on Thursday. The apex court refused to stay the Election Commission’s move to allow the None of The Above option (NOTA) in the 8 August polls.
The Supreme Court’s order comes at a time when the Gujarat Congress is battling hard to ensure a fifth Rajya Sabha term for key strategist Ahmed Patel, amid rising infighting and defection in the party.
Patel, a trusted aide of Congress President Sonia Gandhi, incidentally, has been pitted against former party colleague Balwantsinh Rajput, who is among three Congress MLAs who joined the BJP last month.
Following Congress veteran Shankersinh Vaghela’s exit, six more MLAs followed suit putting the party in a crisis ahead of the RS polls which has now assumed greater political significance. The defections prompted the Congress to ship away its Gujarat MLAs from Ahmedabad to a Bengaluru resort to prevent further poaching.
Fearing NOTA may compound its miseries, the Congress on Wednesday moved the apex court bench headed by Justice Dipak Misra, contending that allowing the option in Rajya Sabha polls was “illegal” and “unconstitutional”.
Filed by Congress' chief whip in the Gujarat Assembly Shailesh Manubhai Parmar, the petition also claimed that the EC “has become a tool in the hands of the ruling dispensation to facilitate a violation of the provisions of the Constitution”.
But the apex court not just refused the stay the EC’s January 2014 notification mandating NOTA in RS polls, but it also questioned the Congress’ delayed reaction –
“When it suited you, you didn’t come (to court), but you came to court, when it affected you,” the bench said.
Appearing for Parmar, senior advocate and Congress leader Kapil Sibal argued that NOTA will encourage corruption. “It's a recipe for corruption. If you don't stay the notification on NOTA, it will let people purchase votes,” Sibal contended.
While refusing the stay, the bench agreed to examine the constitutional validity of the EC notification and directed the poll panel to file its reply by 13 September. The court will hear the matter next on 18 September.
The Congress has already issued a whip to its MLAs directing them to vote for Ahmed Patel in the polls. It had also approached the Election Commission on Tuesday opposing the NOTA in the 8 August election.
Meanwhile, the EC has issued a statement saying that post its January 2014 notification on NOTA, 25 bye-elections to Rajya Sabha have been held –
– In January 2014, the Commission issued directions that the provision of NOTA shall also be applicable to the elections to Rajya Sabha and issued instructions to this effect vide circular letter dated 24 January 2014.
– Immediately thereafter biennial elections to the Rajya Sabha were held in 16 States. Poll was taken on 7 February 2014 where elections were contested. Instructions regarding NOTA option were applicable in these elections onwards.
– On 27 February 2014, while extending the NOTA option to Legislative Council elections, further instructions were issued regarding the manner of marking vote with NOTA option on the ballot paper.
– Later, on 12 November 2015, more detailed instructions were issued regarding the manner of voting including opting of NOTA option with illustrative examples.
– From January 2014, biennial elections to Rajya Sabha covering all States and 25 bye-elections to Rajya Sabha have been held.
The EC statement also gives the details of the 25 elections held.
The BJP, which too had moved the EC seeking withdrawal of the NOTA notification, however, welcomed the apex court order.
“We also hold the view that NOTA is not warranted in Rajya Sabha polls as they are not direct elections. But the Supreme Court will not go by political considerations and its decisions are binding for all and should be acceptable to all,” said BJP spokesperson GVL Narasimha Rao.