AHMEDABAD: The Gujarat High Court on Tuesday declared state minister Bhupendrasinh Chudasama's election in 2017 as void on the grounds of malpractices and manipulation.
The returning officer was "hand in gloves" with the BJP leader and postal ballots were rejected illegally, it said.
Congress candidate Ashwin Rathod had challenged his BJP rival's victory from Dholka constituency by a margin of mere 327 votes in the 2017 Gujarat Assembly polls.
Justice Paresh Upadhyay also rejected Chudasama's request for a stay so that he could file an appeal.
The high court held that Returning Officer Dhaval Jani "illegally rejected" 429 postal ballots during the counting of votes, while the victory margin was only 327.
The procedure adopted for counting of votes was "against the orders of the Election Commission of India (EC)" and illegal, Justice Upadhyay said.
Further, Chudasama indulged in "corrupt practice" under section 123 (7) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, and was "hand-in-gloves with the then returning officer Dhaval Jani", the judge said.
All three facts materially affected the outcome of the election, it said, declaring it as void.
At the same time, the court also rejected petitioner Rathod's prayer that he be declared as elected from the constituency.
Rejecting Chudasama's request for a stay to the order, the court said an election "cannot be permitted to hold the field any further" where 429 postal ballots were excluded from counting "behind everybody's back, including the Observer nominated by the Election Commission," and election record "systematically manipulated" to conceal this fact.
The RO defied relevant orders and instructions of the EC, including mandatory instructions regarding the procedure of counting of votes, the announcement of result and preparation of Final Result Sheet `Form 20' to conceal this, the court said.
Chudasama is currently the minister for education, law and justice, legislative and parliamentary affairs and some other departments in the Vijay Rupani government.
Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel said the decision will be challenged in the Supreme Court.
"The order of the Gujarat High Court is shocking for all of us. The order to cancel election of Bhupendrasinhji is sad news. Naturally, Bhupendrasinhji is getting legal advice regarding the order and steps are being taken to appeal against it in the Supreme Court."
"We are confident of getting justice and stay on this order," he said.
State Congress president Amit Chavda said Chudasama won by misuse of power and manipulation of government officials, but the court's order showed that that such interference in the election process will not be tolerated.
"This is a victory of truth and defeat of the manner in which the BJP misuses power and government officers for its gains.
Congress candidates had opposed this election saying votes were rejected because they were in his favour.
"But the BJP candidate was somehow declared victorious illegally. After more than two years, the High Court finally rejected Bhupendrasinhji's election, and this clearly showed that the BJP government has always misused power and government officials for its own gains," Chavda said.