The just concluded Gujarat Rajya Sabha polls would be remembered for a long time to come. Though there were three seats up for grabs, the real contest was between Ahmed Patel of the Congress and Balvantsinh Rajput of the BJP. In the end, Patel won, Rajput lost. But between the victory and defeat, the Election Commission of India is the real winner. It was an election fought on various turfs – political, ethical and constitutional. Immediately after the RS polls were announced in Gujarat, the most unethical practice of horse-trading came into play. Six of the 57 Congress MLAs quit the party and three of them joined BJP. Simultaneously, Leader of Opposition in the Assembly, Shankarsinh Vaghela, resigned from Congress, making it clear that he and his loyalists would vote for the BJP, putting the candidature of Patel in peril.
Not taking further chances, the Congress decided to keep its flock safe from the ‘poacher’ and herded it to Karnataka where its government is in power. The move was proved right as 43 of the 44 MLAs who spent over a week in Bangalore voted for Patel. The scenes played out in Gujarat portend the degeneration of politics. It is a jungle scenario wherein MLAs are poached apparently with money and muscle power. And when law-makers try to escape the trap laid for them, the poacher takes pot-shots at them. Political horse-trading that started with one MLA in Haryana -- Gaya Lal changed party thrice in a day in 1967 – is fast becoming a plague among political parties. The BJP and its master strategist have apparently tried the trick with unprecedented success in States like Arunachal Pradesh, where overnight a Congress government became a BJP government; in Manipur and Goa where the party with fewer seats than Congress formed the government. However, Congress MLAs in Gujarat, though reduced in strength, have proved that democratic ethos still survives.
In the whole episode played out on various stages in Ahmedabad, Bangalore and Delhi, the hero is undoubtedly the Election Commission of India. It saved democracy from the tainted hands of villains. To check-mate horse-trading, election rules make it mandatory that in Rajya Sabha polls, the voter has to show his vote to the authorized representative of his or her party. But, two Congress MLAs showed their ballot papers to BJP leaders to prove their new loyalty. In the face such clear violation of election rules, the Election Commission stood its ground. It is to be noted that the Chief Election Commissioner was Chief Secretary of Gujarat when Prime Minister Narendra Modi was Chief Minister of the State. Yet, withstanding the pressure of half a dozen senior most Union Ministers who descended on the Election Commission, it went by the rule book and declared the two votes invalid. But for that momentous decision, Patel would have lost the election, leading to another dark day in the annals of democracy. It is relevant to re-read what Ambedkar said: “However good a Constitution may be, it is sure to turn out bad because those who are called to work it happen to be a bad lot.” On the contrary, good people can uphold the Constitution and keep democracy vibrant.(Published on 14th August 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 33)