BJP candidate Krishan Lal Panwar looked all set to enter the Rajya Sabha from Haryana even as uncertainty prevailed over the second seat as the counting of votes was put on hold Friday after the saffron party nominee and the Independent candidate backed by the JJP urged the Election Commission to cancel the votes of two Congress MLAs.
Panwar and Independent candidate Kartikya Sharma shot off a missive to the EC, alleging Congress MLAs Kiran Choudhary and BB Batra showed their ballot papers to unauthorized persons after marking them and that the episodes were “duly captured” by the camera installed for the purpose of election . The charge was denied by Returning Officer RK Nandal who said that he did not find any “breach of privacy/secrecy of ballot paper” by the two MLAs.
Congress candidate Ajay Maken, however, urged the chief election commissioner to declare the results, terming the claims levelled by the BJP and the Independent candidate as “false and frivolous”. Maken claimed there was no breach of secrecy or privacy by the two legislators of his party. He accused the BJP of trying to defeat the process of free and fair election and demanded that the Election Commission declare the poll results immediately.
A BJP and a Congress delegation separately met EC officials in the evening in Delhi.
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Earlier, of the total 90 members of the Assembly, 89 cast their votes, at the end of the polling, which began at 9 am. Independent legislator Balraj Kundu abstained from voting. Objections against the votes Batra and Choudhry were raised in the first hour itself.
While the BJP fielded former minister Krishan Lal Panwar, former Union minister Ajay Maken is the Congress nominee. Media baron Kartikeya Sharma entered the fray as an Independent backed by the JJP and BJP.
While the BJP with 40 MLAs in the 90-member Haryana Assembly has nine more than the 31 first preference votes required for a straight win, the fight is for the second seat. The Congress has 31 members in the state Assembly, just enough to help its candidate win a seat.
Seeking disqualification of the two Congress votes, a BJP delegation, including Union ministers Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, Jitendra Singh and Arjun Ram Meghwal, met the EC in Delhi after the polling process was over to seek a probe into the matter.
“Norms were thrown to wind. We have appealed to ECI to disqualify the votes that were not polled as per the norms. ECI has told us that it will examine the facts,” said Naqvi after meeting ECI. The delegation also requested that the counting should not be allowed unless ECI takes a decision.
Earlier, Sharma had written to the EC claiming that he was sitting inside the polling hall to keep a watch on the process and first saw “Batra and later Choudhry showing their ballot papers, apart from their authorised agent, to many others present” in the hall. He said he raised objects “both verbally and in writing” with the Returning Officer, who turned down the objection. “It appears that the RO is not working for free and fair election. He is working totally in a biased manner in order to favor a candidate of Congress party,” Sharma wrote to CEC.
Just about half an hour later a Congress delegation comprising Pawan Kumar Bansal, Vivek Tankha and Ranjeet Ranjan met the EC and handed over a memorandum by Maken urging that once both the votes were held “valid” by the Returning Officer, the counting should not be stalled and result should be declared.
In his letter to CEC Rajiv Kumar, Maken alleged “unwarranted and illegal interference” by Independent Sharma and the BJP and the alleged have raised frivolous objection before the returning officer with the sole agenda to “defeat the process of free and fair elections.” He also shared the hand-written remarks of the Returning Officer, dismissing the claims made by the BJP and the independent candidate.
Party leaders Bhupesh Baghel, Bhupender Singh Hooda, P Chidambaram and Rande Surjewala joined the meeting with the EC virtually and raised their objects over the alleged delay in declaring the results.
The ECI, according to sources, said it will watch the video footage of the two votes in question and then announce its decision.
Earlier, talking to the Indian Express, Kiran Choudhry said, “A disruption was created by Digvijay Chautala [JJP’s election observer and Haryana deputy chief minister Dushyant Chautala’s younger brother]…. I had only shown my vote to our observer. He (Digvijay) was sitting behind another partition and claimed that he saw my vote. He demanded that my vote needs to be disqualified. I told the EC about the partitions (cubicles) that they had made. Unless I sit in the observer’s lap to show him my vote, the person sitting in the next cubicle can easily get out of his chair and see it. That’s what he (Digvijay) did”.
Independent MLA Balraj Kundu, who has been vocal against the BJP-led government on several issues, remained firm in his decision to abstain from voting. Earlier, Home Minister Anil Vij and state BJP chief OP Dhankar had met Kundu at hios residence to persuade him but were unsuccessful.
“I cannot vote for Panwar because these (BJP) people have looted the state. I will not vote for Sharma because he is a candidate supported by people [JJP] who are drenched in corruption. As for Congress, why did they have to get an outsider? This is an insult to our Haryana,” Kundu said, detailing why he had decided not to cast his vote.
Earlier, all the parties had refuted any possibility of cross-voting by their respective MLAs.
Throughout the day, MLAs from across the party lines kept claiming victory. Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar said, “According to circumstances and equations, BJP nominee Krishan Panwar will win and independent candidate Kartickeya Sharma will also win.”
Congress too confident with party MLA Neeraj Sharma saying that Maken will get more votes appeared than required.” Another Congress MLA Bishan Lal Saini claimed Maken will get 35 votes. “If this number turns out to be incorrect, I will get my mustache shaved,” he added.
On his part, Maken said he will win “200 per cent; There is no doubt on that.”
Sulking Congress MLA Kuldeep Bishnoi voted “as per my inner conscience” and said he showed “my vote to the party observer”.
Congress’ election agent Ashok Arora added there was no cross-voting by party MLAs. State Congress chief Udai Bhan said, “BJP’s tactics of attempting to get two votes disqualified will not work”
Meanwhile, JJP’s Ram Kumar Gautam predicted victory for Karticeya Sharma.
However, INLD’s lone legislator Abhay Chautala, hinted that there could be a bigger game plan. “The manner in which Congress has treated its MLAs clearly show the party doesn’t even trust them.”