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No strings attached for Vaghani as Gujarat HC cross-examines in Ahmed Patel RS election case

No strings attached for Vaghani as Gujarat HC cross-examines in Ahmed Patel RS election case
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BJP state unit president Jitu Vaghani on Wednesday told the Gujarat High Court that he did not know or could not recall the chain of events leading up to Congress leader Ahmed Patel's victory in the August 2017 Rajya Sabha election from the state. Vaghani, also an MLA, made the submission when he was cross-examined by Ahmed Patel's lawyer P S Champaneri in the court.

He is a witness in an election petition filed by BJP leader Balvantsinh Rajput, who has challenged Ahmed Patel's election to the Rajya Sabha from Gujarat. Rajput had narrowly lost the election. During his cross-examination, Vaghani told the high court that he did not know about a BJP delegation visiting the Election Commission (EC) in New Delhi on the evening of the Rajya Sabha election in Gujarat on August 8, 2017.

Vaghani said he had no idea about either the BJP or Congress delegation approaching the EC in New Delhi on the evening of the voting day. The BJP leader said he cannot recall the chain of events that led to the votes of two then rebel Congress MLAs getting cancelled, a development that helped Patel emerge victorious.

A delegation of Congress leaders had approached the EC in New Delhi after the State Election Commission rejected the party's request to invalidate the votes of rebel Congress MLAs Bholabhai Gohil and Raghavji Patel. This was followed by a BJP delegation meeting the EC with the request to reject the Congress' plea.

Delegation of both the parties visited the EC twice even as the counting was suspended awaiting its order. The EC eventually ordered invalidation of the two votes. Asked by Patel's lawyer that if there was a TV set at the hall of Swarnim Sankool in Gandhinagar where the voting took place, Vaghani first replied in the negative.

He then said even if there was a TV set in the hall he could not recall if it was turned on. Champaneri said developments related to the Rajya Sabha election were being telecast on TV that day.

Vaghani said between the time of voting and counting of ballots on August 8, 2017, he was mostly with BJP president Amit Shah. The BJP leader said he cannot recall Congress MLA Shailesh Parmar taking objection to Raghavji Patel showing his ballot paper to a BJP election agent, an action that invalidates a vote.

Vaghani said he cannot recall Parmar and senior Congress leader Shaktisinh Gohli, polling agent of Ahmed Patel, objecting to this on the election day. He said Shaktisinh Gohil had tried to snatch the ballot paper of Raghavji Patel and claimed that the senior leader had even captured a booth during the 2007 assembly polls.

Rajput, a former Congress MLA, had quit the party to join the BJP ahead of the August 8 election. He has accused Ahmed Patel of bribing MLAs to vote for him and requested the high court to quash the EC order invalidating the votes cast by the two rebel Congress MLAs.

Rajput has also prayed that votes of two other Congress MLAs be declared invalid. The EC's decision to invalidate the votes of Bholabhai Gohil and Raghavji Patel had helped Ahmed Patel get 44 votes, the minimum he needed to win.

Rajput had polled 38 votes. Rajput's petition claimed that once the returning officer used his discretion to accept the two votes as valid, the EC had "no power to issue any direction to the returning officer for accepting or rejecting any vote".

(With inputs from agencies.)

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