Cong wins 2 seats in Raj; row erupts over PPE-clad MLA at polling station

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Jaipur: The ruling Congress won two and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) the remaining one Rajya Sabha seat that went to the polls in Rajasthan on Friday with social distancing measures in place due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Congress’s Wajib Ali wore a personal protection equipment suit as he voted since he returned from Australia on Thursday evening but has tested negative for Covid-19 twice. The BJP questioned why Ali was allowed to vote and not put under quarantine upon his return.

BJP MLA Ram Lal Sharma said the central and state governments have issued guidelines for compulsory quarantine for people returning from abroad. “We raised the objection as he was putting other life in danger. The returning officer stopped him to vote, conducted the Covid19 test and then allowed after wearing PPE kit,” he said.

Ali maintained he tested negative for the disease in Australia as well as before voting.

Returning officer Pramil Kumar Mathur said Neeraj Dangi and K C Venugopal (Congress) and BJP’s Rajendra Gehlot were elected and that they received 59, 64 and 54 votes. A candidate required 51 first preference votes to win.

Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot tweeted to congratulate Venugopal and Dangi. He said their victory is that “of the ideology, policies and programmes of Congress Party under the leadership of Sonia Gandhi”.

He had accused the BJP of trying to poach Congress lawmakers ahead of the polls. The BJP had rejected the allegation.

Venugopal thanked Sonia Gandhi, former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi, Ashok Gehlot, Rajasthan’s deputy chief minister Sachin Pilot and Congress lawmakers and promised to become state’s voice and raise issues of farmers.

Known to be close to Ashok Gehlot, Venugopal is a former Lok Sabha member from Kerala’s Alappuzha and has also served as a Union minister. He was elected to the Kerala assembly in 1996, 2001 and 2006.

Dangi, a close confidant of Ashok Ghelot, has been the state president of Youth Congress and a three-time assembly member.

Rajendra Gehlot is a two-time assembly member, who has served as minister in the state.

Congress has a strength of 107 in the 200-member Rajasthan assembly. It also enjoys the support of 18 lawmakers, including 13 independents. The BJP has 72 lawmakers and support of three Rashtriya Loktantrik Party MLAs.

Of the 200 lawmakers eligible to vote, minister Bhanwar Lal Meghwal and Girdhari Lal, a Communist Party of India (Marxist) member, could not vote because they were unwell.

Political expert Narayan Bareith said the good thing in this election was that both the parties fielded their workers and not outsider. “The BJP was legally entitled to field second candidate but morally was not as they didn’t have the numbers. This create an atmosphere of possibilities of trading, which had happened in past be it in Gujarat, Goa or Manipur. The result was Congress camped their MLAs together,” he said.

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