As party leaders kept an anxious watch, legislators from four states queued up to vote in 16 MPs to the Rajya Sabha on Friday with some being ferried from resorts they had been sequestered in amid fears of poaching by rivals. The high-stakes race to the Upper House acquired urgency with the number of candidates exceeding the seats going to the polls in Haryana, Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Karnataka. Polling started at 9 am and will continue till 4 pm. The votes will be counted at 5 pm.
Elections to 57 Rajya Sabha seats were announced recently. All 41 candidates in Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Punjab, Telangana, Jharkhand and Uttarakhand were declared elected unopposed last Friday.
This left 16 seats in four states for which elections were necessitated – six in Maharashtra, four each in Karnataka and Rajasthan and two in Haryana. Prominent among those in the fray are Union Ministers Nirmala Sitharaman and Piyush Goyal, Congress candidates Randeep Surjewala, Jairam Ramesh and Mukul Wasnik, and Shiv Sena’s Sanjay Raut. All are expected to win without a hiccup.
In Maharashtra, seven candidates are in the fray for six seats in what is the first time in more than two decades that there is an electoral contest for the Rajya Sabha polls. A close contest is being played out between the state’s ruling Shiv Sena and the opposition BJP for the sixth seat. The contest is primarily between BJP’s Dhananjay Mahadik and the Sena’s Sanjay Pawar.
The ruling MVA – Shiv Sena, NCP, Congress – had kept their MLAs in different hotels and resorts in Mumbai till they left for the state assembly just before polling began.
The Assembly is the electoral college for the biennial elections. In Maharashtra, the total votes have come down from 288 to 285 — there is a vacancy due to the death of Shiv Sena MLA Ramesh Latke and the courts rejected pleas by minister Nawab Malik and former minister Anil Deshmukh seeking a day’s bail to cast their vote. In Karnataka, too, there is suspense over the fourth seat with three parties – BJP, Congress and JD-S — in contention.
Despite not having the numbers to win the fourth seat, all three fielded candidates for the seat, forcing an election.
The six candidates in the fray are Sitharaman, actor-politician Jaggesh and outgoing MLC Lehar Singh Siroya from the BJP, former Union Minister Jairam Ramesh and state general secretary Mansoor Ali Khan from the Congress, and former MP D Kupendra Reddy from the JD(S).
The fight for the fourth seat will see a direct contest between Siroya, Khan and Reddy.
As these elections have an open ballot system, every MLA (voter) has to show their ballot paper to their designated party agents. Worried about cross-voting, the JD-S had shifted its legislators to a hotel on Thursday night. Its Kolar MLA K Srinivas Gowda has already declared he will vote for the Congress candidate.
In Rajasthan, the ruling Congress exuded confidence that it has the numbers to win three seats of the four while the BJP said it expects a ”miracle” when the results are announced.
Lashing out at the opposition BJP for fielding Subhash Chandra as an independent candidate despite not having majority, Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot claimed, “Their own MLAs did not like Chandra.” Gehlot told reporters outside Hotel Leela Palace on the Delhi highway where the party’s MPs had been corralled, “I am saying again that we are winning three seats comfortably and they (BJP) should take care of their house. The way they fielded another candidate, it was not liked by MLAs of their party.” “There is a reaction in the whole state. Elections were conducted unnecessarily otherwise all four seats — three by us and one by the BJP — would have been won comfortably,” he said.
One candidate needs 41 votes to win.
The Congress, with its 108 MLAs, will have 26 surplus votes after winning two seats. It will require 15 votes to win the third seat.
The Congress, which has fielded Randeep Surjewala, Mukul Wasnik and Pramod Tiwari, claims the support of 126 MLAs, including 108 from the party itself. The party needs 123 MLAs to win three seats.
The BJP has 71 MLAs in the state Assembly, enough to get one seat in the Rajya Sabha this time. After that, it will be left with 30 surplus votes.
The 30 surplus votes of the BJP and three of RLP (total 33) are with Chandra. He is short of eight MLAs to win the seat. The tension carried over to Haryana, where Congress had tucked away its MLAs in the Chhattisgarh capital Raipur and the ruling BJP-JJP its flock, including some Independents, at a luxury hotel in Chandigarh. After landing in Chandigarh, Congress legislators gathered at the home of former chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda and moved together to cast their votes. The BJP has fielded former minister Krishan Lal Panwar, while Ajay Maken, a former Union minister, is the Congress nominee. Media baron Kartikeya Sharma has entered the fray as an Independent.
While the BJP with 40 MLAs in the 90-member Haryana Assembly has nine more than the 31 first preference votes required for a straight win, the contest has become keen for the second seat with Sharma’s entry.
Sharma has the backing of the BJP-JJP combine, most Independents, as well one MLA each from the Haryana Lokhit Party and the INLD.
The Congress has 31 members in the 90-member Assembly, just enough to help its candidate win a seat. Its prospects could be in jeopardy in case of cross-voting. The BJP has 40 MLAs while its ally has 10 legislators. The Indian National Lok Dal and Haryana Lokhit Party have one each and seven are independents.
The Election Commission has appointed special observers and ordered videography of the entire exercise.