The Election Commission on Friday took the extraordinary step of countermanding the Rajya Sabha election in Jharkhand following allegations of horse trading and the seizure of over Rs 2 crore in cash.
“The Commission is satisfied that the current election process for Rajya Sabha election from Jharkhand has been seriously vitiated and cannot be permitted to proceed,” the three-member EC headed by Chief Election Commissioner SY Quraishi said in a 12-page order.
“Accordingly, the Commission hereby recommends …to the President that she may be pleased to rescind the notification of March 12 calling upon the elected members of Jharkhand Legislative Assembly to elect two members to the Council of States,” it said.
While Rajya Sabha elections have been countermanded in the past, this is the first time that such a step has been taken on account of vitiation of the election process because of ‘money power.
The Commission’s decision came after a day-long meeting to inquire into the source of the huge cash seizures made by Income Tax authorities in Ranchi on Friday morning.
Several political parties had lodged complaints with the EC about horse trading in these polls.
According to the Returning Officer of Jharkhand, the EC found that of 81 members of the state assembly (one seat is vacant), 79 cast their votes while three voters – Vishnu Bhaiya (of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha), KN Tripathi (of the Congress) and Suresh Pashwan (of the Rashtriya Janata Dal) – showed their ballot papers to persons other than their respective party agents, violating the prescribed voting procedure, the EC said.
“This raises a strong suspicion that the votes of the above-mentioned three MLAs may have been influenced by the alleged horse trading about which strong apprehensions had been raised by Gurudas Das Gupta, Babu Lal Marandi and Sharad Yadav,” it said.
The report of the Returning Officer was followed by another representation to the EC submitted by five Left parties in Jharkhand, namely, the CPI, the CPI(M), the Forward Bloc, the RSP and the Marxist Coordination Committee, stating that huge money was being spent by some candidates to buy votes in the Rajya Sabha election and requesting the Commission to intervene immediately in the matter and stop the election process.
Earlier on Friday, Rs 2.15 crore in cash had been seized from a vehicle belonging to the brother of one of the independent candidates, RK Agarwal, near Ranchi.
Enquiries by the EC in Jharkhand revealed that “prima facie, the source of the cash found in the vehicle is unexplained and is liable for seizure.”
“The person carrying the cash Sudhanshu Tripathy stated that the cash was handed over to him by Soumitra Sah, son-in-law of RK Agarwal. The same was to be handed over to a person named Khandelwal, the owner of a Ford Ikon showroom at Ranchi, and the vehicle under reference is in the name of Suresh Kumar Agarwal, brother of R.K. Agarwal and the the cash found appears to be without clear source and efforts are on to detect its real source”, the EC said.
Veteran lawyer and BJP MP Ram Jethmalani said that by countermanding the RS elections in Jharkhand, the EC had “set an excellent precedent.” His party colleague Yashwant Sinha said he was happy with the EC decision as the Rajya Sabha elections “have been a happy hunting ground for money bags”.
CPI leader Gurudas Dasgupta said the election laws should be amended to provide for state financing of general elections and state elections. There should be no secret ballot for Rajya Sabha elections, he added. “Voting should be open.”
The report of the Jharkhand Chief Electoral Officer to the EC said the Income Tax authorites “received information from a reliable source” late on 29 March that cash would be transported from Jamshedpur to Ranchi for distribution in connection with the election.
Therefore, with the help of the district police authorities, a picket was erected on the Jamshedpur-Ranchi highway (NH-33) at Rampur Haat to check the movement of suspicious vehicles.
At around 6.30 am, an Innova Car bearing Jharkhand registration number was seized with Rs 2.15 crore in unaccounted cash evidently for distribution in connection with the election on behalf of RK Agarwal, the independent candidate.
The Jharkhand CEO’s report, on which the EC acted, also said that apart from the intercepted vehicle, there was information that two more vehicles carrying unaccounted cash were following the Innova from Jamshedpur, but that they returned to Jamshedpur along with the cash after the Innova was intercepted .
The Rajya Sabha election for the two seats in Jharkhand was necessitated by the imminent retirement of Surendrajeet Singh Ahluwalia and Mabel Rebello on Monday. Five candidates filed their nominations. Ahead of the elections, Gurudas Dasgupta wrote to the EC citing media reports “on strong and tangible apprehensions about horse trading” to secure the votes of “vulnerable MLAs”.
Babu Lal Marandi, Member of Parliament and former chief minister of Jharkhand, too had called on the Commission with a delegation and presented a memorandum expressing similar concerns. That was followed by a letter from JD(U) chief Sharad Yadav that hinted at the use of money power in the elections.
Taking note of these apprehensions, the Commission on March 27 instructed the Chief Secretary of Jharkhand and other authorities concerned to keep a strict watch on the situation and prevent any such incident.