The 2017 poll outcome also provoked the highest number of legal disputes, with 24 victories of both the BJP and the Congress being challenged in the Gujarat high court. After the 2012 assembly poll, only seven results were taken for legal review.
As for the 2017 election, the Gujarat high court has ruled on four cases. It quashed the victories of two BJP candidates and disqualified them as legislators. In May 2020, the court annulled the victory of former education minister Bhupendrasinh Chudasama from Dholka. In April 2019, the court invalidated the triumph of Pabubha Manek from Dwarka. Chudasama later received relief from the Supreme Court, which stayed the HC order and he was able to complete his term. In Manek’s case, the apex court refused to stay the high court order. However, the Election Commission of India (ECI) did not hold any byelection in the Dwarka constituency and it remained unrepresented for over three years.
Manek has a record seven straight poll victories and has been chosen again by the BJP to contest from Dwarka. Previously, he has won that seat thrice asan independent candidate, once as the Congress candidate, and thrice as a BJP member.
Some candidates lost both the 2017 poll and the legal fight. The high court rejected a petition filed by the Congress’s Arjun Modhwadia questioning the victory of the BJP’s Babu Bokhiria from Porbandar. But the Congress’s C J Chavda survived the legal opposition to his success in Gandhinagar North. His rival’s candidature had been rejected by the returning officer.
In fact, many litigants wanted results to be nullified because they could not contest the election owing to the defects in their nomination forms. The constituencies where the election authorities’ decisions were questioned over the rejection or the acceptance of nominations were Jamalpur-Khadia, Patan, Gandhinagar North, Himmatnagar, Varachha Road, Limbayat, Gariyadhar, Godhra, Prantij, Santrampur, Mandvi, Vagra, Matar, Dabhoi, Dwarka, Kamrej, and Danilimda.
Three petitions contesting the results were withdrawn from the court. One was pulled back by the Congress’s Dhiraj Kalathia who had lost to the BJP’s Saurabh Dalal in Botad. Kalathia wanted a recount because of the thin margin of defeat. Seven cases await adjudication. One plea from the 2012 poll, against the victory of the Congress’s Shailesh Parmar from Danilimda, was disposed of in 2021 by the high court. The court had said that the petition had become infructuous.
Minor error, big consequence
Dwarka MLA Pabubha Manek’s victory was annulled due to a minor mistake committed by his proposer while filing the nomination form. The proposer did not mention the candidate’s name or the name and the number of the constituency in the first line of the form. Instead of Manek’s name, the name of the proposer had been written. The HC considered this a defect of “substantial character” which rendered his nomination illegal.
HC ire, SC relief
On May 12, 2020, the HC quashed sitting minister Bhupendrasinh Chudasama’s victory over the Congress’s Ashvin Rathod by 327 votes. The court observed that Chudasama and the returning officer of Dholka, Dhaval Jani, were acting “hand-inglove” and the “unholy nexus” between the two resulted in irregularities in counting of votes. The court said that the returning officer had avoided counting 429 postal ballots. The court said that the returning officer systematically manipulated election records to conceal the illegal exclusion of postal ballots. CCTV footage showed Chudasama’s private secretary Dharmin Mehta inside the counting hall. Eventually, the Supreme Court stayed the HC order.