Congress' uninformed challenge to NOTA exposes party's low confidence in Rahul Gandhi, Ahmed Patel

The Supreme Court's refusal to stay NOTA (none of the above) option in the upcoming Gujarat Rajya Sabha polls is yet another setback for Congress. The party leadership's strategy to rush to the apex court and the Election Commission of India, and create a ruckus in the Parliament over application of NOTA is even more bizarre.

Congress will find it difficult to explain why the party’s entire leadership and its think tank suffered from collective amnesia and why the party's gigantic organisational structure failed to do one simple homework. Was this really the first time that NOTA was being made applicable in Rajya Sabha polls, and when was NOTA first introduced?

Rahul Gandhi and Ahmed Patel. PTI/Naresh Sharma

Rahul Gandhi and Ahmed Patel. PTI/Naresh Sharma

What should be deeply embarrassing for Congress is to know that NOTA voting option in Rajya polls was not a motivated brainwave of the Election Commission for Gujarat Rajya Sabha polls (read to prevent re-election of Ahmed Patel, Congress' third most powerful person after Sonia and Rahul Gandhi), but in fact, it was introduced way back in January 2014. The world knows that it was Manmohan Singh-led UPA II, which ruled India and Sonia as Congress president and chairperson of UPA held a tight leash over the government. The Congress should also remember that the Election Commission is a constitutional body, which is as autonomous today as it was in early 2014.

The facts are as follows: in pursuance of a Supreme Court direction, the Election Commission had issued instructions on 11 October, 2013 for providing NOTA option on the ballot after the name of the last candidate in all parliamentary and assembly elections held henceforth.

On 24 January, 2014, the commission issued specific directions that the provision of NOTA shall also be applicable in the elections to Rajya Sabha and issued an official circular to this effect. Soon after that biennial elections to Rajya Sabha were held in 16 states. On 27 February, 2014, NOTA option was extended to state legislative council elections. On 12 November, 2015, further detailed instructions were issued regarding the manner of voting including opting for NOTA with illustrative examples.

It should be noted that since January 2014, India has witnessed biennial elections to Rajya Sabha covering all the states and 25 bye-elections to Rajya Sabha.

Now consider what Congress leaders had to say in the Parliament only two days ago when it became known to them that NOTA will be applicable in the Rajya Sabha polls in Gujarat where Patel, whose words are perceived to have been said on behalf of Sonia and happened to be an unwritten law in Congress party and in the UPA government for 10 years, between 2004-14, is contesting.

Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha, Ghulam Nabi Azad charged that this decision amounted to a provision of "rigging".

"It's very serious. It has been notified only for Gujarat. Earlier only in Jammu and Kashmir used to have two Constitutions. Now, Gujarat has also joined the list of states where two Constitutions are in practice," Azad said.

His deputy in the Upper House Anand Sharma went on questioning the authority of the Election Commission to introduce the measure without a Constitutional amendment.

The Supreme Court bench was quoted as asking lawyers from Congress: "Why did you (Congress) not challenge it when Election Commission issued NOTA in 2014 and 2015?"

The question was only natural, reminding the party of the factual position. Senior leader and noted advocate Kapil Sibal who appeared for Congress argued that NOTA provision "will encourage corruption". The court did not agree with his contention and refused to grant a stay. It’s a different matter though that the court has agreed to hear the constitutionality of NOTA applicability in polls for the Upper House.

The Congress’ inability to keep its flock together and convince its own leaders in virtue of re-electing Patel points to the low confidence that the party leaders have in Rahul’s leadership. It is most embarrassing for Rahul and rest of Congress leadership that six of Gujarat Congress MLAs have resigned and more are expected to follow suit. More so, Congress president's most trusted lieutenant — Patel — no longer inspires confidence in his own state. He has become as helpless as any other Congress leader. If he loses election it may mean end of hope for the party in Gujarat assembly polls which is scheduled to be held in November-December this year.

The Congress leadership’s strategy to fly over 40 MLAs from Ahmedabad to Bengaluru and confine them at Eagleton The Golf Resort in the outskirts of Karnataka's capital too has not yielded any positive results. Two of them have already returned to their home in Gujarat. Others are facing popular flak for leaving their respective constituencies in times of flood for the luxury of a five star resort in Congress-ruled Karnataka.

The Congress’ strategy to allege that the Income Tax Department’s raid at the 60 premises linked with Karnataka energy minister DK Shivakumar was a raid at 42 Gujarat Congress MLAs confined at Eagleton resort, boomeranged after finance minister Arun Jaitley issued a clarification and several TV channels showed footage of loads of cash — Rs 10 crore — recovered from his premises. The resort where Congress MLAs are staying is owned by Shivkumar. To Congress’ discomfiture this became yet another example for BJP to portray Congress as a party which supports corruption and black money.

Updated Date: Aug 03, 2017 19:57 PM

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