Senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel, facing an onslaught of questions in the Gujarat High Court during the hearing of a writ petition challenging his August 2017 Rajya Sabha victory, on Monday maintained that his party’s legislators were neither threatened nor bribed into voting for him.
Patel had won the Rajya Sabha election from Gujarat on August 8, 2017, by just one vote after votes of two cross-voting party MLAs were rejected and two other legislators exercised their franchise in his favour.
As many as 44 Congress MLAs were then taken to a hotel resort in Bengaluru till the elections, after the ruling BJP had allegedly poached on the opposition party’s lawmakers to defeat Patel. Eight Congress legislators had cross-voted while six others had resigned as lawmakers.
The BJP had fielded Balwantsinh Rajput, a Congress turncoat, as a third candidate though it had numbers to ensure victory of only two members, party chief Amit Shah and Union Minister Smriti Irani. Without a third candidate, Ahmed Patel’s victory was only a formality just as those of Shah and Irani.
Rajput had challenged Patel’s victory in the Gujarat High Court alleging that the Congress MLAs were threatened as well as lured into voting for him.
The court had allowed the plea of Rajput’s counsel, Additional Solicitor-General Satyapal Jain, representing him in a personal capacity, to cross-examine Patel. Monday was the third day and the questioning would continue on Tuesday.
On Monday, Jain asked Patel about his interactions with the Congress MLAs during and after a meeting of the Congress lawmakers on July 25, 2017, where a whip was issued mandating the Congress MLAs to vote for Patel, failing which they could be disqualified from contesting any election for six years.
He was also queried about his contacts with the legislators till the day of polling on August 8 in state capital Gandhinagar.
The petitioner’s counsel was trying to establish the complicity of Patel in influencing the Congress MLAs through threats in the form of a whip and in the legislators being taken to a resort in Bengaluru.
Patel maintained that he was in touch with some of the senior leaders in the state since it was election time but maintained that he was not aware of any influence on the lawmakers to vote for him. He also denied any role in the Congress MLAs being flown off to the Bengaluru resort.
During the cross-examination in the court of Justice Bela Trivedi, Rajput’s advocate on several occasions tried to question Patel’s presence with the MLAs in the resort by showing some photographs. To which, the Congress leader maintained that he did not remember the particular incident of Congress MLAs being taken to Bengaluru and thereafter their return to Anand a day ahead of the polling.
Patel, however, stated that he had met the MLAs in Anand (after their return from Bengaluru) at a meeting on the evening of August 7, but denied that he had any role in arranging for their accommodation and other expenses at the Bengaluru resort and thereafter.
Justice Trivedi warned Patel that if he continued saying he didn’t remember much of the things as they were of almost two years ago, it would only prolong his deposition. He had asked the court to expedite his deposition soon so that he could attend the ongoing Rajya Sabha session.
Rajput’s counsel requested to continue the questioning on Tuesday about Patel meeting the Congress MLAs at the Ahmedabad airport after they returned from Bengaluru. Patel’s counsel Champaneri agreed and sought the court’s permission to seek certain answers from Patel.