The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) gained crucial ground in the Rajya Sabha on Friday, winning eight of the 19 seats across eight states that went to polls in the first major electoral exercise since the outbreak of Covid-19. The party has earlier won three seats unopposed.
Former Union minister Jyotiraditya Scindia of the BJP, Congress leader Digvijaya Singh and former Jharkhand chief minister Shibu Soren were among the heavyweights who emerged victorious on Friday even as high drama unfolded in Gujarat and Manipur, where the counting of votes began late amidst allegations of irregularities.
The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), which had 90 members in the Rajya Sabha, has taken its tally to 101 in the 245-member Upper House, where the majority mark is 123. This is for the first time that the NDA tally in the Upper House has breached 100. The BJP alone will have 86 seats. The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) will have 65 seats.
The NDA, if backed by parties such as the Biju Janata Dal (BJD), All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and the YSR Congress Party (YSRCP), can breach the halfway mark in the Upper House, and will be in a position to push key legislations in Parliament. It has an overwhelming majority in the Lok Sabha.
Elections to 24 seats in 10 states were initially scheduled for March 26, but they were deferred as India clamped a lockdown to stop the spread of the disease around that time. From the original list, four candidates in Karnataka, including former prime minister HD Devegowda, and one in Arunachal Pradesh were elected unopposed. Polling was held in the remaining seats on Friday. Altogether, the BJP won 11 of the 24 seats.
Personal protective equipment (PPE) and hand sanitizer were in supply in polling booths on Friday, and social distancing norms followed with nearly 1,000 legislators taking part in the polling process in the shadow of the pandemic.
In Gujarat, the ruling BJP won three seats (Narhari Amin, Abhay Bharadwaj and Ramilaben Bara) and the Congress one (Shaktisinh Gohil). The resignation of eight MLAs since March denied the Congress a chance to bag the second seat. The declaration of the result was delayed after the Congress demanded that the Election Commission (EC) invalidate two BJP votes on different grounds.
The Congress objected to Bhupendrasinh Chudasama casting his vote on the ground that his election was annulled by the Gujarat high court in May. The Supreme Court has stayed that order. The party also red-flagged Kesrisinh Solanki’s vote, saying an unauthorised person accompanied him inside the booth.
A senior official, however, said the EC observer rejected the Congress’s objections and referred the matter to the poll watchdog’s Delhi office for final decision.
In Manipur, the lone Rajya Sabha seat went to poll in the backdrop of an ongoing power tussle between the ruling BJP and the Congress. Fifty-two of the 59 members of the legislative assembly exercised their franchise with the BJP’s Sanajaoba Leishemba, the titular king of Manipur, securing 28 votes to defeat the Congress’s T Mangibabu, who got 24 votes.
Though polling in the north-eastern state ended at 4pm, the counting of votes began around 8:30pm. The delay was attributed to the Congress’s complaints about irregularities during the voting process.
In other states, results were along the expected lines with the ruling Congress foiling the BJP’s bid to such snatch an extra seat in Rajasthan. In the desert state, KC Venugopal and Neeraj Dangi of the Congress were declared winners. So was Rajendra Gehlot of the BJP.
The BJP fielded a second candidate, but he lost. Congress insiders praised deputy chief minister Sachin Pilot for winning two seats in the face of the BJP onslaught.
Scindia, who joined the BJP in March, sailed through in Madhya Pradesh and will make his debut in the Upper House. His party colleague, Sumer Singh Solanki, too registered a win. Congress veteran Digvijaya Singh retained his seat.
In Jharkhand, former chief minister Soren and the BJP’s Deepak Prakash won the two seats. K Vanlalvena, a candidate of BJP ally Mizo National Front (MNF), bagged the lone seat in Mizoram, while the National People’s Party’s (NPP) WR Kharlukhi won in Meghalaya. The lone BJP MLA in Mizoram did not turn up to vote for ally MNF.
In Andhra Pradesh, the ruling YSR Congress Party’s Pilli Subhash Chandra Bose, Mopidevi Venkata Ramana, Parimal Nathwani and Ayodhya Rami Reddy swept the four seats up for grabs.
Altogether 61 seats in the Rajya Sabha were filled this year with 43 first-timers being elected and 12 members getting re-elected. Apart from Scindia, other prominent first-timers included Mallikarjun Kharge and KC Venugopal of the Congress, and M Thambidurai of the AIADMK, among others.
After the vacancies arose in March across 20 states, 42 members were elected unopposed, including 28 first-timers. “While the 61 retiring members have a total experience of 95 terms ranging from one to four terms in the Rajya Sabha, the winners come with a total experience of only 32 terms, resulting in a decline in total experience of 63 terms,” a Rajya Sabha official said.
Some of the 12 members who were re-elected included Bhubaneswar Kalita, a former Congress parliamentarian who switched sides to the BJP; Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar; and Union minister Ramdas Athawale.