Elections for 16 seats in Rajya Sabha: BJP wins Karnataka, Congress Rajasthan; disputes delay Maharashtra and Haryana

Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, Congress leader Jairam Ramesh and party spokesperson Randeep Surjewala were among the eight election candidates to Rajya Sabha Friday from Karnataka and Rajasthan, while counting of votes in Maharashtra and Haryana was delayed with rival parties trading charges.

Although the BJP faced an embarrassment in Rajasthan with one of its MLAs switching sides, its gamble in Karnataka paid off as its third candidate won because of cross-voting by a JD(S) MLA and an independent legislator. The BJP won three of the four seats in Karnataka while the Congress heaved a sigh of relief in party-ruled Rajasthan where all three of its candidates won, overcoming fears of cross-voting and horse trading.

The high-stake battle for 16 seats — 6 in Maharashtra, 4 each in Karnataka and Rajasthan and 2 in Haryana — turned out to be a nail-biting affair with the Congress and BJP trading charges, even approaching the Election Commission.

Jairam Ramesh

In Maharashtra, the victory of two of the BJP candidates — Union minister Piyush Goyal and former state minister Anil Bonde — is certain. The same is the case with Shiv Sena’s Sanjay Raut, NCP’s Praful Patel and Congress’s Imran Pratapgarhi. The contest is for the sixth seat — the BJP has fielded former MP Dhananjay Mahadik and the Shiv Sena candidate is Sanjay Pawar.

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For the ruling BJP and the Opposition, every seat in Rajya Sabha counts. The tally of the ruling BJP, which crossed the 100 mark in Rajya Sabha in April for the first time, is expected to come down to 92. The BJP is expected to win two seats in Maharashtra and at least one in Haryana. The party’s strength can go up again when the President nominates fresh members as seven seats are vacant and nominated members can join any party in the Rajya Sabha within six months.

In Rajasthan, despite fears of cross-voting which prompted the Congress to sequester its MLAs in a resort in Udaipur, the party managed to get all its three candidates — Surjewala, Mukul Wasnik and Pramod Tiwari — elected. While BJP candidate Ghanshyam Tiwari won, media baron Subhash Chandra, the independent candidate it had backed for the fourth seat, lost.

In Karnataka, the results came as a boost for the BJP. Sitharaman and the BJP’s second candidate, actor-politician Jaggesh, won. But the party’s third candidate, outgoing MLC Lehar Singh Siroya, also won because of cross-voting by a JD(S) MLA and an independent MLA. While Singh got 33 votes, JD(S)’s D Kupendra Reddy, a former MP, got 30 votes. Although it did not have the numbers, the Congress too had fielded a candidate for the third seat. Its candidate Mansoor Ali Khan got 25 votes.

The JD(S) admitted that two of its MLAs did not vote in the favor of its candidate. JD(S)’s Kolar MLA K Srinivas candidate Gowda cast his vote for the Congress, while Gubbi MLA SR Srinivas put a blank ballot paper into the box, which would be counted as invalid, JD(S) legislature party leader HD Kumaraswamy said .

While Gowda accepted he voted for the Congress candidate, Srinivas rejected Kumaraswamy’s claim and insisted he voted for his party’s pick. Gowda, who had been maintaining distance from the JD(S), said, “I voted for Congress because I love it… my future politics is with Congress. I was earlier a minister from Congress.”

In Rajasthan, BJP MLA Shobharani Kushwah voted for Congress candidate Tiwari, prompting the party to issue a notice to her.

Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot managed to break the BJP ranks and ensured that the two BTP MLAs, Rajkumar Roat and Ramprasad Dindor, defied their party whip and voted for the Congress candidates. By ensuring the victory of the party’s three candidates, Gehlot managed to send a message to the leadership that he is firmly in command.

Subhash Chandra

Earlier, senior leaders of the Congress in Delhi had indicated that the party leadership would take a call on the simmering leadership issue in Rajasthan after the Rajya Sabha elections. “We cannot let the issue linger and make Rajasthan go the Punjab way. We have to take a decision either way and announce it,” a senior leader had said — the “either way” was whether to continue with Gehlot as Chief Minister or replace him with Sachin Pilot.

Gehlot called the win of the Congress candidates a victory for democracy. “It was clear from the beginning that the Congress has the numbers to get its three elected candidates. But the BJP, by fielding an independent, tried to indulge in horse-trading. The unity of our MLAs is a strong answer. The BJP will have to face a similar defeat in the 2023 Assembly elections,” he said in a Twitter post.

Sources said the MLAs were brought to the Assembly in three buses with one of the candidates in each bus. The MLAs had to vote for the candidate who was with them in the bus.

In Haryana, all MLAs barring independent legislator Balraj Kundu cast their votes for the two seats — for which three candidates are in the fray. The ruling BJP has the numbers to get its candidate, former minister Khan Lal Panwar, elected barrison but the entry of media Karticeya Sharm for the second seat against Congress’s Ajay Maken injected an element of uncertainty. The high-stakes battle got mired in controversy after Sharma demanded that the votes of two of the Congress MLAs be declared invalid.

Sharma, who was backed by the JJP and BJP, claimed two MLAs of the Congress — BB Batra and Kiran Choudhry — violated the secrecy of the voting process. In his complaint to the EC, he claimed both “showed their ballot papers, apart from their authorized agent, to many others present in the Hall.” The Congress hit back with Maken writing to the EC, saying the objection was “frivolous.” He argued Sharma’s complaint was an “unwarranted and illegal interference”.

A BJP delegation comprising Union ministers Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, Jitendra Singh and Arjun Ram Meghwal met the Election Commission and demanded that the votes of Batra and Choudhry be declared invalid. Carrying Maken’s letter, a Congress led by AICC treasurer Pawan Kumar Bansal too approached the EC minutes later, saying the objection raised by Sharma and the BJP be rejected as it was “nothing but a weak and attempt without any basis to disturb the pious election process.”

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The BJP delegation demanded the cancellation of the votes of three MVA MLAs in Maharashtra as well for “compromising and vitiating” the Rajya Sabha poll process by openly displaying ballot papers.

The BJP claimed that state cabinet ministers Jitendra Awhad, Yashomati Thakur and Shiv Sena MLA Suhas Kande violated the model code for voting. It alleged that Awhad and Thakur handed over their ballot papers to their respective party agents instead of only showing them the ballots, while Kande showed his ballot papers to two different agents.

“Norms were thrown to the wind in Maharashtra and Haryana. We have appealed to ECI to disqualify the votes that were not polled as per the norms. ECI has told us that it will examine the facts,” said Naqvi after meeting the EC.

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