Three-state boost and a downer: How BJP came out on top in Rajya Sabha polls

For the first time in its history, the BJP crossed the 100 MPs threshold in the Rajya Sabha on March 31. The tally came down to 95 in the Upper House elections held on Fridaybut, in nail-biting contests that went down to the wire, the ruling party won a seat each in Karnataka, Maharashtra, and Haryana above its strength in the Assemblies of these states.

The BJP’s senior leaders and Cabinet ministers Nirmala Sitharaman and Piyush Goyal won — the Union finance minister from Karnataka and her Cabinet colleague from Maharashtra — but the party faced a major setback in Rajasthan, where it has begun preparations for next year’s Assembly elections, after its Dholpur MLA Shobharani Kushwah cross-voted for the Congress candidateleading to the defeat of Independent candidate backed by the party.

Of the 16 seats for which elections were held, the BJP won three each in Karnataka and Maharashtra, one in Rajasthan, and two in Haryana. Among the two who won from Haryana is independent candidate Kartikya Sharma, who defeated senior Congress leader Ajay Maken. Sharma who is a media baron was backed by the BJP-Jannayak Janta Party (JJP) ruling combine. Going by the arithmetic in the Assemblies, the BJP should have won 20 seats but it managed to bag 23.

After winning four out of 13 seats in the Upper House elections held on March 31, the BJP’s tally reached 101 (it included nominated members). This made it the first party to achieve the feat since 1988. After the party’s MP from Punjab, Shwait Malik, retired in April, the tally was down to 100. With Friday’s victories, the party’s MP count in the Rajya Sabha will go up to 95. Its strength can go higher again when the President nominates fresh members. At present, seven seats are vacant and nominated members can join the party in the Rajya Sabha within six months of their selection.

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Karnataka and Rajasthan

In the southern state, all three of the BJP’s candidates won although the party did not have adequate numbers for the third candidate. A party source claimed that the victory was down to “bagging votes from both the Congress and the JD(S)”. According to party leaders in the state, the outcome is a “morale boost” for Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai and the party ahead of next year’s state elections.

“The win has made the chief minister upbeat and it also indicates the working together of the chief minister and his predecessor BS Yeddyurappa, who still has a strong influence on party MLAs. This will settle rumours that the BSY camp is upset because his son BY Vijayendra was denied an MLC seat,” said a leader close to Bommai. The CM had come under criticism for the debacle that the party faced in by-elections, including one in his native district. “The other consequence will be the demoralisation that would creep in the Congress camp — the blame game will dampen the party’s spirits,” he added.

Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai with BJP candidates Jaggesh, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and Lehar Singh Siroya celebrate their victory in the Rajya Sabha 2022. (PTI)

While the party’s strategy found success in Karnataka, it could not have its way in Rajasthan, a state unit struggling due to a deep internal rift. Senior BJP leader Ghanshyam Tiwari clinched one seat for the BJP in Rajasthan, but independent candidate and media baron Subhash Chandra could not win despite intense efforts from the BJP leadership. According to sources, the BJP tried to woo the Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTP) to vote in favor of Chandra, but its two MLAs stood with the Congress. The party has sent a show-cause notice to Kushwah, its Dholpur MLA, over cross-voting for Congress Pramod Tiwari and violating the party whip.

Party leaders from the two factions in the state unit were quick to indulge in a blame game, with both the official faction and the faction led by Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje privately pointing former fingers at each other. Sources said the Raje camp was “upset” after the BJP decided to nominate Tiwari, known for his rivalry with the former CM, for the Upper House. The official faction alleged that Kushwah cross-voted at Raje’s behest. “This will keep happening unless the central leadership finds the root of this issue and takes action against those who are,” said a party leader.

BJP Rajasthan President Satish Poonia and party candidate Ghanshyam Tiwari flash the victory sign as they celebrate the latter’s victory in the Rajya Sabha elections 2022. (PTI)

Maharashtra and Haryana stories

The victory of its three candidates in Maharashtra After hours of uncertainty seems to have left the state BJP excited. “This is the first significant win and a moral victory after a long time for the Maharashtra BJP over the ruling Maha Vikas Aghadi,” said a party source. “One of our candidates losing would have meant that the BJP had not learned anything since 2019 when the Shiv Sena broke away and joined hands with the NCP and the Congress to form the government. The BJP had not been able to come back politically since then, despite all the mighty efforts the party has made in the state. This will definitely keep the party back on track. The differences among the leaders also will get diluted.”

In Haryana, the BJP and the JJP backed Kartickeya Sharma. Initial reports of his loss sent “signs of distress” in party circles. “But this shows that our strategies have won – be it in keeping our flock together and making cracks in the Opposition camp,” said a party leader familiar with developments in the state.

Independent candidate Karthikya Sharma along with his supporters after the declaration of results of the Rajya Sabha election at Haryana Vidhan Sabha in Chandigarh. (Express photo by Jasbir Malhi)

Moving the ECI

The counting of ballots in Maharashtra and Haryana was delayed after the BJP approached the Election Commission of India (ECI), levelling charges of irregularities against the Congress. The party approached the poll panel, alleging that Congress MLAs BB Batra and Kiran Choudhry had “compromised and vitiated the voting procedure by openly displaying their ballot papers to persons other than their own party election agent” and the party contended that the Returning Officer allowed their votes as legal without even considering the facts presented on examining The Conduct of Election Rules, 1961, or consulting ECI observers present at the spot.

The BJP pointed out that in the Ahmed Patel case in 2017 the ECI had clearly held that the act of showing ballot papers to anyone other than the party’s election agent renders the votes invalid and the Returning Officer is bound to cancel such votes even if they have been cast in the ballot box and mark the votes so that they are not considered in the final counting. The party wanted the ECI to enquire into the matter and cancel the votes.

A BJP leader who is familiar with the party’s functioning in Maharashtra said another complaint was filed in the state against Yashomati Thakur of the Congress, Jitendra Awhad of the NCP, and Suhas Kande of Shiv Sena on similar charges.

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