Rajya Sabha polls: A high-stakes game and a helpless Election Commission

Biennial elections for Rajya Sabha are otherwise a routine electoral affair. Each party knows its strength in respective Assemblies, number of vacancies, how many legislator votes are required to make a candidate win and thus parties easily assess if they have a chance to win and if so, how many seats they can win. Once the parties announce the nominations, their berth in Upper House of Parliament is generally taken for granted and elections become a mere formality.

But the 11 June biennial elections for 57 seats in 16 states have thrown up some most interesting scenarios.

In at least six states — Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Jharkhand, Karnataka and Haryana, an extra candidate, supported by either the BJP, the Congress or by the regional party concerned, has filed a nomination. The presence of one extra candidate in the contest in these states has opened the situation up for horse-trading, allurement, pulls and pressures of all kinds. Elections for Rajya Sabha or the Council of States are indirect elections, where the electoral college comprises elected MLAs of a state. Even as parties issue whips and voting is not secret, cross-voting — ie a vote to a candidate other than the one desired by the party leadership — does not make one liable under the Anti-Defection Act.

The “inner voice”, ironically calls for corruption, at least for a section of them.

The sting operation carried out by some TV news channels have shown as how a section of MLAs in Karnataka are finding this to be an occasion to make crores of rupees just to stamp their first preference vote in favour of a particular candidate.

The visuals of some MLAs openly fixing prices worth several crores of rupees is indeed most disturbing, but there is little that the Election Commission can do at this stage other than make the right noises and receive petitioners of all hues, either demanding polling as per schedule or those demanding countermand or postponement. We will explain later why EC is broadly helpless in this matter.

Let us first understand how the cards are placed on the electoral table in each state where the biennial polls will be held on Saturday:

 Rajya Sabha polls: A high-stakes game and a helpless Election Commission

Representational image. AFP


Number of vacant seats: 4
Number of candidates: 5
Total strength of House: 224
Minimum votes required to get elected: 45

While the first three candidates — Nirmala Sitharaman of the BJP, Oscar Fernandes and Jairam Ramesh of the Congress — will easily sail through, a contest will be held for the fourth seat, between KC Ramamurthy of Congress and BM Farooq of JD(S). The Congress with 123 members in the House needs the votes of 12 MLAs from outside to make its candidate win and JD(S) with 40 MLAs needs five votes from outside the JD(S).

The sting operations conducted by Times Now and India Today have shown how ugly elections can get and how crores of rupees can freely change hands for every single vote. The Congress has shifted 11 Independents to Mumbai, away from Karnataka, to be brought back to Bengaluru only on polling day. The Congress led by its general secretary Digvijaya Singh petitioned the EC not to cancel or postpone polls amidst reports of the commission taking cognisance of horse-trading.

Madhya Pradesh

Number of vacant seats: 3
Number of candidates: 4
Total strength of House: 230
Minimum votes required to get elected: 58

The BJP with 165 members in the House is sure to send its first two candidates — MJ Akbar and Anil Madhav Dave — to Rajya Sabha. It has however, queered the pitch for Congress candidate Vivek Tankha, a lawyer, by supporting an Independent Vinod Gotiya. Tankha should have otherwise been sitting pretty because the Congress has 57 MLAs and just needs one from the outside. Gotiya has 49 spare votes of the BJP and needs nine from outside.


Number of vacant seats: 4
Number of candidates: 5
Total strength of House: 200
Minimum votes required to get elected: 41

The BJP, with 161 members, will easily secure victory for its first three candidates — Venkaiah Naidu, Om Prakash Mathur and Harshvardhan Singh. Its fourth candidate Ram Kumar Verma will need three votes from outside the BJP, but the Congress has supported an Independent Kamal Morarka, a former Union minister and businessman. The Congress has only 23 MLAs and Morarka will need 18 more to win. The number of Independents and Others are 16. Even if all of them vote for Morarka, he can’t win on the basis of first preference votes, but his entry into the fray has made the contest interesting.

Uttar Pradesh

Number of vacant seats: 11
Number of candidates: 12
Total strength of House: 229
Minimum votes required to get elected: 34

Going by the list, 10 candidates — Shiv Pratap Shukla from the BJP, seven from the Samajwadi Party including Amar Singh, Beni Prasad Verma, Surendra Nagar, VP Nishad, Rewati Raman Singh, Sukhram Singh Yadav and Sanjay Seth, two from the BSP including Satish Mishra and Ashok Siddhartha — are sure to win. On the last day, the BJP sprung a surprise by putting up a wealthy Independent Preeti Mahapatra to spike the chances of the Congress’ Kapil Sibal who, on paper, needs five extra votes other than those from the (29). Mayawati has 12 spare votes. But she has still not opened her cards. Sibal’s chances are brighter than Mahapatra’s, but the vote is expected to go down to the wire.


Number of vacant seats: 2
Number of candidates: 3
Total strength of House: 90
Minimum votes required to get elected: 31

The BJP that has 51 seats, has fielded one candidate, Chaudhary Birendra Singh and will have 20 spare first preference votes. It has thus supported an “Independent” media baron Subhash Chandra. Now Chandra will have to fetch 11 votes from outside the BJP. His options include the INLD (19 votes), HJC (2), SAD (1) and BSP (1). But what has complicated matters for him is that the Congress and Lokdal have supported RK Anand, former MP and lawyer. The Congress has 15 MLAs. If all of Congress and INLD vote for him, then he is through but game is still open.


Number of vacant seats: 2
Number of candidates: 3
Total strength of House: 81
Minimum votes required to get elected: 28

The BJP, whose strength in the House is 43 plus four from the AJSU, has fielded Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi (sure to win as first candidate) and Mahesh Poddar. But Poddar has a deficit of nine votes and will have to slug it out with Basant Soren of the JMM, which has 19 votes. Soren, the younger son of Shibu Soren too has to manage nine votes. The Congress (seven votes) is supporting and mobilising Bablal Marandi’s JVM (two votes) to defeat the BJP.


Number of seats: 1
Number of candidates: 3
Total strength of House: 61 (70 in total but nine were expelled)
Minimum votes required to get elected: 31

It is yet another challenge for chief minister Harish Rawat to see his official candidate Pradeep Tamta wins against the challenge put up by two Independents Geeta Thakur and Anil Goyal. The Congress on its own has 27 and needs four from outside the party. The BJP has 28, so the candidate it chooses to support has to manage three votes from wherever he or she could.

As to why the EC can’t take action — by countermanding the polls where sting operations have exposed rampant horse-trading — is for four reasons: First, unlike the Lok Sabha or Assembly polls where the EC has special powers to countermand elections in the event of massive rigging or other malpractices including bribing voters, it does not have such powers with regards to Rajya Sabha polls. Perhaps, that was never envisaged by the makers of the Constitution and when the Representation of People Act was framed.

Second, sting operations are merely indicative. No money actually changed hands. A public perception can be built around that, but guilt can’t be established on that basis.

Third, polling is yet to take place to claim that votes of suspected MLAs went to particular candidates because of bribery or other inducements.

Fourth, what does EC cancel? Since it is an indirect preferential voting, there is no conflict for other remaining seats than first, third, fourth, fifth, eleventh etc. How can the EC then differentiate between seats? Should it have all the elections cancelled or postponed, or hold elections only for one seat on the basis of certain presumptions?

Questions abound.

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Updated Date: Jun 07, 2016 10:41:02 IST