The BJP is working overtime to secure a last-minute win for independent candidate Preeti Mahapatra in the upcoming Rajya Sabha polls in Uttar Pradesh to deny an upper House berth to senior Congress leader Kapil Sibal.
The BJP has 41 members in the UP assembly and needs 35 to push through its official nominee, Shiv Pratap Shukla. But the party is confident of convincing members of the Congress, Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party to vote for Mahapatra, who needs at least 29 non-BJP votes to win.
“We are sure of Preeti Mahapatra’s win. It’s the Congress and the seventh Samajwadi Party candidate who seem to be in the danger zone,” says BJP spokesperson Chandramohan.
The Rajya Sabha polls are important as the NDA is in a minority and a Congress-led Opposition has often used their superior numbers to stall crucial legislation in the upper House.
Members are allowed to vote across party lines in the RS polls and sources say the SP might even withdraw its seventh candidate to facilitate Sibal’s win as the Congress leader shares good rapport with leaders of the SP and the BSP.
The Congress has 29 members in the 403-strong house and the party also is tasked with ensuring that all its lawmakers vote for the party nominee.
Mahapatra’s perceived momentum might also deliver a victory for BJP’s second legislative council nominee Daya Shankar Singh, who needs support from other parties to win the June 10 polls. Singh was caught in a similar situation last year and lost. This time he is short by 13 votes.
Observers say Singh’s election might indicate if Mahapatra will win because rebel legislators from other parties are likely to support the BJP in both the council polls next Friday and the RS elections a day later.
“If BJP’s second nominee for Vidhan Parishad sails through, Mahapatra would automatically be assured of an entry to the House of Elders,” said a BJP leader.
The jostling for Rajya Sabha seats comes less than a year before the state goes to the polls.
“Wait and watch till Friday when things would get clear. If any withdrawal happens it would mean victory for BJP,” says a party leader.
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Mahapatra has already secured support from rebel SP lawmaker Ram Pal Yadav, BSP’s Kheri MLA Bala Prasad Awasthi, Apna Dal’s RK Verma and NCP’s Fateh Bahadur — all of whom have signed up as her proposers.
The BJP is also banking on the support of some on-the-edge party lawmakers from other parties. Some BJP insiders even suggest that the Rajya Sabha election could well be a sort of an ‘entrance test’ for lawmakers eyeing a BJP ticket in the 2017 UP polls.
“It’s true that I am openly supporting the BJP. It’s equally true that several lawmakers are with us from all parties to help the BJP,” says Awasthi.
A BJP insider said that several Congress, SP and BSP are likely to vote for the BJP. “All these MLAs are eyeing a BJP ticket. Additionally six of the eight lawmakers of a west-UP based regional party have so far assured us of support,” a BJP insider said. “Wait and watch. Preeti Mahapatra is surely going to win,” says former BSP coordinator Jugal Kishore who has since embraced the BJP.