With five leading candidates in the fray for four Rajya Sabha seats, Rajasthan is headed for yet another political slugfest and sequestering of MLAs.
On Tuesday, the last day of filing nominations, the Congress’s Randeep Singh Surjewala, Mukul Wasnik and Pramod Tiwari filed their nominations, as did the’s Ghanshyam Tiwari. Then, came the surprise, with media baron Subhash Chandra joining the race as an Independent, backed by the BJP.
With Congress plans up in the air, Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot targeted the BJP for supporting Chandra, and said it would indulge in horse-trading as it does not have the numbers.
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“We are going to win three seats. I don’t know why the BJP has played the game,” Gehlot said, talking to reporters outside the Assembly after the Congress candidates had filed their nomination. “From where will they bring votes?”
That may turn out to be a wrong question.
As things stand, the Congress and BJP can easily elect two and one Rajya Sabha MP, respectively, with 41 votes required for each candidate. For an additional seat, they need to obtain votes of MLAs outside their party. Currently, the Congress has 108 MLAs, and to elect three MPs, it needs 15 more votes. The BJP has 71 MLAs and to elect a second MP, it needs 11 more MLAs.
While most of the 13 Independent MLAs are with the Congress, apart from one RLD MLA, the position of the other parties — the Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTP), 2 MLAs; Rashtriya Loktantrik Party (RLP), 3; and CPM, 2 — is not clear yet.
A few days ago, RLP chief and Lok Sabha MP Hanuman Beniwal said that the party will not support either the Congress or the BJP in the Rajya Sabha polls. On Tuesday, BTP president Velaram Ghogra said the same to, adding: “We have supported the Congress in the past, but Chief Minister Gehlot has not fulfilled any of our demands. So we will take a final call on June 9, after discussing it with our national leadership and our state leaders and MLAs.”
Gehlot expressed confidence of seeing the Congress MPs through, saying the 19 party MLAs who had revolted against his government in 2020 are also with it now. If they didn’t leave when offered Rs 10 crore as first instalment, they were not likely to leave now, he suggested.
The CM said the Independents, MLAs of other parties like the CPM, the BTP and those who defected to the Congress from the BSP, all had played a key role in saving his government.
On the Congress fielding leaders from outside Rajasthan as its candidates, a cause for much heartburn, Gehlot said there is an atmosphere of tension and hate in the country and, therefore, the party high command had taken a decision considering all the factors.
The 71-year-old Subhash Chandra is the founder of Zee and heads the Essel Group, which has interests in media and entertainment, education, infrastructure, financial services, etc. A sitting Rajya Sabha MP, Chandra’s election in 2016 from his home state of Haryana was as full of drama, with him slipping through after some Congress votes were stunningly declared invalid.
Rejecting claims of horse-trading by Gehlot, BJP state president Satish Poonia said: “The Congress is accusing others of doing what it does itself.” The BJP has an additional 30 votes, he said, and it would “appeal” to supporters, regional parties and “like-minded individuals” among the MLAs to vote for Chandra.
But just in case appeals don’t work, other measures are being put in place. The Congress party has scheduled a two-day workshop on June 1 and 2 for its former and current AICC leaders from Rajasthan, district presidents, frontal unit heads, NSUI, Mahila Congress, Sewa Dal leaders, as well as MLAs, among others. The MLAs may be sequestered following the workshop.
The BJP has called a meeting on June 5, after which the MLAs are expected to go for ‘training’ on voting for the Rajya Sabha polls, on June 6 or 7.
One chink in the armour was fixed Tuesday. For its Rajya Sabha nominee Ghanshyam Tiwari, the BJP ensured as proposer former CM– projecting that all was well between the two bitter rivals.