The petition, which resulted in Gujarat minister Bhupendrasinh Chudasma’s election to the Assembly being declared null and void, had allegations similar to those levelled against Shivraj Singh Chouhan in 2005 — misuse of government machinery to win the election. How Chouhan had wriggled out of the ordeal without contesting the petition gives an insight into his power of manipulation.
Chudasma (BJP) was declared elected to Gujarat Assembly from Dholka constituency by a small margin in 2017. He is a senior member of the Vijay Rupani cabinet holding Education, Law and Legislative Affairs portfolios. The 70-year old Chudasma had won from Dholka constituency eight times. His election was challenged by defeated Congress candidate Ashwin Rathod.
Justice Paresh Upadhyay of Gujarat High Court allowed the election petition on May 12 and cancelled Chudasma’s election. The judge also passed strictures against Returning Officer Dhaval Jani for his role in the manipulation.
Defeated Congress candidate Rajkumar Patel had challenged Chouhan’s election from Budhni constituency in 2005 through an election petition. Chouhan was not MLA when he became the Chief Minister. The BJP MLA from Budhni in Sehore district had resigned to enable him to enter the Assembly. A massive misuse of the government machinery was made at Budhni to help the chief minister. Newly appointed chief secretary Rakesh Sahni, who was also chairman of the Madhya Pradesh State Electricity Board (MPSEB), ensured 24-hour power supply in the Budhni constituency villages when the entire State was suffering from acute power crisis (inviting the wrath of the Election Commission). Sehore Collector S K Mishra, who was the Returning Officer for Budhni, became perhaps the first such functionary in the country for being summarily removed by the Election Commission in the midst of the campaign for openly kowtowing to the ruling party candidate, viz. Chouhan.
The Election Commission had received so many complaints of the violation of the code of conduct that it not only ordered removal of the Sehore District Magistrate (who was the Returning Officer) and Sehore district police chief but also changed the date of polling from April 24 to May 3. A large number of vehicles plying without permission were impounded on orders of the Election Commission observers.
Defeated Congress candidate Rajkumar Patel, a Digvijaya Singh protégé, challenged Chouhan’s election in the Madhya Pradesh High Court, mainly on the grounds of blatant misuse of the government machinery. It was a well-documented petition and Rajkumar Patel had been showing it to his friends in politics and the media with pride. Those who had gone through it were certain that not only Chouhan’s election was likely to be declared null and void but some IAS officers might also come in for censure by the High Court.
But Chouhan did not contest the petition. He simply “won over” Rajkumar Patel who did not appear for the recording of his statement, in spite of the repeated notices from the High Court. The petition against Chouhan was dismissed in default.
Once the code of conduct period was over, Chouhan made S K Mishra Collector of Bhopal (a big jump from a small district like Sehore to State capital city) and then secretary to the Chief Minister, sending an unmistakable message to the bureaucracy that he would take care of the officers who would be loyal to him even by violating the law.
Opinion expressed here are author’s personal one