Ink Of The Matter
Chandra’s camp allegedly replaced the official ink
- In the Haryana assembly, with 90 MLAs, BJP has 47, INLD 20 and the Congress 17. Both Subhash Chandra (backed by BJP) and R.K. Anand (by Congress and INLD) required 30 votes to win a Rajya Sabha seat.
- Chandra could get 17 surplus votes from the BJP after the party’s official candidate Birendra Singh received 30 votes and in addition, votes of 6 Independent MLAs. However, he would have lost even with these 23 votes
- But Chandra ended up with 29 votes and Anand was left with 21 after 12 ballots in his favour were rejected. If these 12 Congress votes in his favour were not rejected on the ground that a different ink was used, then Anand would have won in place of Chandra.
A fortnight after he lost a dramatic election to the Rajya Sabha from Haryana, controversial Delhi-based lawyer and former MP R.K. Anand is busy marshalling his resources to challenge the result. He says he would take the battle to the high court if the Election Commission fails to set aside the election of Zee Media group founder Subhash Chandra. In a letter to the Rajya Sabha chairman, Anand has pleaded that Chandra should not be allowed to sit in the House till the challenge is exhausted. Anand lost the election as 14 votes cast in his favour were declared invalid, 12 of them for having used the wrong coloured pen.
Interestingly, Chandra’s autobiography The Z factor: My Journey as the Wrong Man at the Right Time lies prominently on Anand’s desk. “I now know his movements in Chandigarh, the calls he made and the people he met,” says Anand, who alleges that a section of the Vidhan Sabha staff and the Haryana Election Commission colluded with the BJP and Chandra to hand him an unfair victory.
‘Enquiry’ calls: At a hearing in Chandigarh before the state election commission, Anand produced call records of Chandra’s lawyer V.K. Mohan. Anand alleged as many as 24 calls were exchanged between Mohan and the returning officer (RO) Rajender Nandal between June 2 and June 10. Several calls were made and received after office hours and, out of these, many were initiated by the RO. Calls were even made to Nandal’s residence. All of this continued up until the night before the election. When asked for a comment, Mohan refused, asking that Chandra be contacted instead. However, Chandra did not comment despite repeated attempts to contact him.
Anand also alleges that Chandra had a meeting with Nandal in the latter’s chamber around 5 pm on June 10. However, there is no official record of the visit. Even the visitor’s book does not have Chandra’s name on it. Anand claims he can prove that the surreptitious meeting did take place because Chandra had received a call while in the RO’s chamber. He claims to have the authenticated detail of the telecom tower that received the call.
Call records of Chandra’s lawyer V.K. Mohan
While Nandal has defended these claims by saying that he is duty-bound to respond to calls from a candidate or his agents, Anand wonders why he did not receive or have to make any calls to the RO. Chandra has, reportedly, not denied that the calls were made, but brushed aside the allegation by saying that he would have provided the records himself if Anand had asked him for them.
Meanwhile, Nandal says that he himself did not initiate any calls to Chandra or his lawyer Mohan. “If I get any missed call, it is my duty to respond. I have two SMSs from Chandra’s team and can submit their copies to the Election Commission. One asks for an appointment while the other asks if an outsider from Haryana can be an agent in an election, to which I said yes. None of the other candidates called because they are all experienced and know the rules,” says Nandal.
Pen swap: Anand showed Outlook videos of the polling. From a five-hour-long video, Anand has a short clip that shows BJP MLA Aseem Goel’s actions. Unlike other legislators, who vote straight away, show their vote to the agent and swiftly put it into the ballot box, Goel seems to take a while longer. Anand accuses Goel of having replaced the official pen—supposed to have violet ink—with a pen with blue ink, considered invalid for voting. Goel, he argued before the state election commission, spent 49 seconds at the polling booth compared to four to 21 seconds taken by others. Anand alleges that in this extra time, Goel changed the official pen at the booth to a blue-inked one when he went to vote, after which a trail of Congress MLAs voted. He accuses independent legislator Jai Prakash of having changed the pen at the booth back to a violet-inked one, after which the rest of the votes were considered valid. The ‘conspiracy’, he says, became evident when Chandra wanted the ink on the ballot papers to be checked.
Video grab showing BJP MLA Aseem Goel casting his vote
When asked about the allegation, Nandal doesn’t provide an explanation, “At the beginning of polling, I showed the pen to all. I have conducted the election by the rules of the EC and in the presence of EC officials.”
Anand says his team has scrutinised the video, which apparently shows Goel and Jai Prakash reach for their pockets. He says one can see some “pant movement” when the two MLAs are at the polling booth. Anand infers that the two legislators are swapping pens at this moment in the video. “At the hearing, when I drew the commission’s attention to these movements, Subhash Chandra claimed it was not unusual for men to scratch in the region where their pockets are,” says Anand.
Anand admits that he had not expected to lose the election. “Sonia Gandhi had assured me that I would get the support of all Congress legislators and they would support the INLD (Indian National Lok Dal) backing me,” he says. He needed the support of just 30 MLAs to sail through and with both the 20 INLD MLAs and 17 Congress MLAs backing him, he hoped to be taking his seat in the Rajya Sabha during the monsoon session.
But, in a turn of events, former Haryana chief minister and Congress leader Bhupinder Singh Hooda reportedly left his ballot paper blank and claimed that he had apprised the Congress leadership that he would do so. Even Congress leader Randeep Singh Surjewala’s vote was cancelled as he allegedly showed it to fellow legislator Kiran Chaudhary. “I still should have been left with 32 votes which would have seen me through,” says Anand. But, 12 votes cast by Congress MLAs were declared invalid by the RO because they had been signed in blue ink.”
“I have concluded the hearings and I will be sending the report to the ECI in the next few days,” says Haryana chief election officer Vijay Dahiya. If the Election Commission’s order is not in his favour, Anand plans to petition the Haryana High Court in the hope of a re-poll before the Parliament’s monsoon session. Along with the footage and call records, Anand also plans to submit affidavits from Congress and INLD legislators who voted for him.
Rajya Sabha elections have perpetually been mired in controversies. And this curious case of the pen in Chandigarh adds one more dimension to the growing anecdotal evidence that the polling methods are not really foolproof.
By Anoo Bhuyan in New Delhi