WITH the Rajya Sabha virtually the Congress’s last stand, a lot is riding on 57 seats of the House being filled up on June 11. Independents are being whisked away, dinners are being held to decide the bad eggs, MLAs are being hauled to “training sessions”, and police cases are being fought off, in the final countdown to the polls that will decide the new battlelines in Parliament.
Of these 57 seats, the Congress and BJP currently hold 14 each.
Karnataka: 4 seats
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Since Sunday, seven Karnataka MLAs out of 14 who are Independent or affiliated to small parties have been moved to Maharashtra by the ruling Congress. Another batch of MLAs is expected to travel tonight as the Congress goes all out to hold off the JD(S) and win the maximum number of seats from the last major state in its kitty.
The 14 MLAs, who are being kept company by Congress leaders, hold the key to whether the Congress can win three of the four seats falling vacant, including one held by Vijay Mallya. A sting operation last week had shown Karnataka MLAs purportedly seeking money for votes in the Rajya Sabha polls.
The Congress has 123 MLAs in the 224-member Assembly and is assured of victory for its two first-choice candidates, Oscar Fernandes and Jairam Ramesh, with a candidate needing 45 votes to win. It needs the support of at least 12 additional MLAs to ensure a victory for its third candidate, former IPS officer and wealthy educationist K C Ramamurthy.
The BJP, which has 45 MLAs, has only nominated Union Minister of Commerce Nirmala Sitharaman, who is expected to win.
The JD(S) has fielded B M Farookh, a wealthy businessman worth over Rs 650 crore. With 40 MLAs, the party like the Congress is banking on Independents and other MLAs.
The JD(S) had, in fact, obtained signatures of 10 Independents for Farookh, but they later shifted allegiance to the Congress. Now five of its own MLAs are said to be leaning towards the Congress.
Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah and Power Minister D K Shivakumar have assured Independent MLAs of funds for their constituencies in return for support.
Uttar Pradesh: 11 seats
The Congress has announced a dinner for its 29 MLAs on June 8 in Lucknow. Congress candidate Kapil Sibal will be present along with AICC general secretary Madhusudan Mistry, state president Nirmal Khatri, and Congress Legislative Party leader Pradeep Mathur. Those skipping the dinner will be taken as voting against the party line.
The Congress has 29 MLAs in Uttar Pradesh. To get Sibal elected, it needs at least 34 votes.
With the BJP, that has 41 MLAs, supporting Preeti Mahapatra, seemingly to queer Sibal’s pitch, Congress leader Pramod Tiwari on Monday accused it of horse-trading.
Sources said the Samajwadi Party, which has fielded seven candidates, has told its 229 MLAs to come to Lucknow by Tuesday evening and remain there for any meeting called by Mulayam Singh Yadav.
The 80 MLAs of the BSP, that has fielded two candidates, will come to the state capital only a day before the voting, when they will informed how they are supposed to vote, a party leader said.
A senior Congress leader said the BSP had “indirectly” assured them of support in both the Rajya Sabha and Legislative Council polls.
Madhya Pradesh: 3 seats
The Congress held a “training session” on Monday for its 57 legislators with members asked to record phone conversations if attempts were made to bribe them. Five of its MLAs didn’t turn up. While four had valid reasons, the party is doubtful about Jatara MLA Dinesh Ahirwar, who is rumoured to have switched his loyalty to the ruling BJP.
Earlier the Congress had got some respite when the BSP asked its four members to vote for Congress candidate Vivek Tankha.
On Monday, the Congress moved the high court seeking postal ballot facility for its leader Satyadev Katare, who is undergoing treatment in Mumbai, and has intensified efforts to get bail for an MLA who is in jail for a criminal case.
The Congress has a chance to win one Rajya Sabha seat from MP while the BJP is set to win the remaining two. With BJP leader Vinod Gotia’s entry as an Independent having forced the election, former Union minister Kamal Nath said it was a proof of the BJP’s corrupt politics.
The BJP is confident of its candidate Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi winning, but it is what it will do to get the second seat that has other parties on edge. The Congress as well as the JVM (Prajatantrik) of Babulal Marandi are backing the JMM candidate, Besant Soren, the younger son of Shibu Soren, while the BJP has fielded Mahesh Poddar.
The Congress’s newly elected MLA Panki Devendra Singh is facing an election case, while there is an externment order against its former minister Yogendra Sao, whose wife is an MLA. JMM MLA Jagarnnath Mahato is in jail. “If not horse-trading, we feel the BJP is trying to send a message to these MLAs that if they stay away from voting, they would be dealt with leniently,” said a Congress leader.
The BJP has the support of two one-MLA parties in the Assembly, but requires at least seven more votes to win the second seat. The JMM, JVM (P) and Congress together have 28 votes. In case MLAs remain absent, the numbers required for winning the second seat come down.
Rajasthan: 4 seats
With 160 MLAs plus support of four Independents in a House of 200, the ruling BJP had hoped all its four candidates to sail through. That is, until former Union minister and businessman Kamal Morarka joined the race. The BJP has now issued a whip to its MLAs, and organised what it calls a “training camp” at an undisclosed location.
Barring the National Unionist Zamindara Party’s two MLAs, Morarka had proposers from the rest of the Opposition, including the Congress, BSP, National People’s Party, as well as three Independents.
However, he still needs five MLAs more to add up to 41 for a chance of winning. The Opposition is expected to woo some unhappy BJP MLAs from the Shekhawati belt, to embarrass the BJP that has senior leaders such as M Venkaiah Naidu and Om Prakash Mathur in the fray. Its other two candidates include Harshvardhan Singh, who belongs to the royal family of Dungarpur, and the RSS’s Ramkumar Verma.
But some in the Congress are not too sure of the party gameplan, and are apprehensive that the aggressive BJP may end up taking away some of its 24 MLAs.
The Congress, incidentally, is already framing it as a “moral win”. “The BJP locking away its MLAs is symbolic of our moral victory. MLAs should be allowed to freely exercise their rights,” leader of opposition Rameshwar Dudi said.
Haryana: 2 seats
A contest is on, with the BJP able to ensure win for Union minister Birender Singh but not having enough numbers to see through Zee Group and Essel owner Subhash Chandra, who is contesting as an Independent with its support.
The INLD is supporting Supreme Court advocate R K Anand.
In the 90-member Assembly, the BJP has 47 MLAs, the INLD 19 and the Congress 17.
The Congress had earlier urged the INLD to have a consensus candidate to keep the BJP out, but in vain. But the result of the second seat will depend on which way the Congress votes.
Chandra claims support of two INLD MLAs as well as a legislator of the Akali Dal and of the BSP.
Uttarakhand: 1 seat
The Congress has fielded Pradeep Tamta, but two BJP leaders are giving a fight as Independents. The BJP, which has 28 MLAs, has said it will decide on the day of polling whom to vote for. The Congress claims support of 34 MLAs, including six of the PDF.
In Maharashtra (6 seats), Tamil Nadu (6), Bihar (5), Andhra Pradesh (4), Odisha (3), Telangana (2), Chhattisgarh (2), Punjab (2), and Jharkhand (2), there is no contest. (with ENS, Delhi, Ranchi, Jaipur, Chandigarh, New Delhi)