A rollercoaster electoral battle : The Tribune India

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A rollercoaster electoral battle

A rollercoaster electoral battle

Photo for representation. File photo



Satish Kumar Sharma

ON a hot, windless evening of May 1996, the counting of ballots for the Vadodara Lok Sabha election threw up a cliffhanger — lightweight Congress candidate Satyajitsinh Gaekwad was ahead of his formidable BJP rival Jitubhai Sukhadia by all of 17 votes. I was then a DCP in the city and in charge of law & order and security at the counting centre, a polytechnic college. My batchmate, IP Gautam, was the Collector and the District Election Officer (DEO).

For Gautam, it was a tricky situation as the Congress candidate was demanding that he be declared the winner, while the BJP nominee wanted a recount. The latter’s party was ruling the state; the CM and senior leaders of both parties were making frenetic phone calls to the DEO.

Gautam acted swiftly. First, he disconnected his telephone. Next, he agreed to consider the BJP candidate’s petition for recounting and gave him an hour to file it.

I was at the control room of the counting centre when supporters of both parties gathered outside. Before I could react, hundreds of them thronged the passage outside the control room. Anything was possible — a clash, a stampede or ransacking of the counting centre. I rushed out and employed the force available to push the crowd back and clear the passage. Then, I called for reinforcements. The personnel arrived within minutes and we managed to restore order inside the building and outside.

On returning to the control room, I found the DEO wondering whether he should allow recounting. If he allowed it and the BJP candidate emerged the winner, his impartiality would come under a cloud and the Congress nominee was sure to demand a second recounting. If he rejected the petition, his decision was likely to be challenged in the court, and perhaps successfully.

Only days earlier, Gautam had had a confrontation with the redoubtable TN Seshan, then Chief Election Commissioner (CEC). A difference of opinion over a technical point had snowballed into a showdown. Gautam had held his ground and explained his position in a letter. Finally, Seshan had to blink. But now, Gautam was facing a new problem.

Past midnight, the BJP candidate submitted his petition for recounting. The safe course for the DEO would have been to allow it, but he chose the correct option. He fixed an open hearing to consider the plea. Meanwhile, both parties had marshalled legal teams to plead their case. Gautam heard the arguments and counter-arguments and then passed a reasoned order rejecting the petition. To this, the Central observers gave their consent and the order was faxed to the CEC for confirmation.

The wait was pregnant with suspense. At last, in the wee hours, the Congress candidate was declared the winner.

As expected, Gautam’s decision was challenged, but both the high court and the Supreme Court upheld it.

#BJP #Congress #Lok Sabha


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