Why 2016 Rajya Sabha elections will be dirty

Elections to Rajya Sabha have generally been controversial but this year it seems to be getting messier than ever. The ruling BJP is leaving no stone unturned to increase its numbers in the Upper House where it is in a minority. At the same time, the Opposition, led by the Congress, is using its might to stop the BJP from gaining strength.

 

 

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The biennial elections to be held on June 11 for 57 seats have all the ingredients of becoming controversial – India Today TV’s sting showing crores being offered and demanded for just one vote, polling necessitated by the number of candidates exceeding the number of seats in Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh, and a degree of cross-voting.

The BJP, which is in a majority in the Lok Sabha, has 49 members out of the total 238 elected MPs while the Congress is still the single largest party with 64 seats. However, the BJP is all set to narrow this gap by increasing its tally by five seats, to 54 MPs. On the other hand, the Congress will lose about six-seven seats and its tally is likely to come down to 57-58 seats.

Being in a minority, the BJP-led NDA has failed to ensure the passage of several of its key Bills, one of them being the Goods and Services Tax (GST) Bill. The Congress is seen as only disrupting the proceedings of the House of Elders and blocking the passage of Bills. The elections have become messier because both the BJP and the Congress want to control the Rajya Sabha.

In a bid to scuttle the chances of former Union minister Kapil Sibal, the BJP has played a masterstroke. It has lent its support to independent candidate and an industrialist’s wife Preeti Mahapatra, who is considered close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party president Amit Shah.

The BJP will pull off a major coup if it succeeds in ensuring Sibal’s defeat. It is, therefore, working overtime to achieve this mission. Sibal is a key candidate of the Congress. He, along with Abhishek Manu Singhvi, is proving to be party president Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul Gandhi’s Man Friday.

Sibal has been coming to their aid in these difficult times. He has been representing them in the National Herald cheating case and has been strategising over the AgustaWestland VVIP chopper scam. The Rajya Sabha ticket would be a reward for his loyalty. The senior lawyer’s defeat will not only be a major embarrassment for the Congress but also a personal jolt to the Nehru-Gandhis.

There was no threat to Sibal till there were 11 candidates for as many vacant seats in Uttar Pradesh. However, the surprise para-dropping of Mahapatra has upset Congress’ apple cart. Mahapatra’s entry has not only necessitated an election but also disturbed the equilibrium in the politically surcharged state.

Lawmakers from four parties have rebelled and pledged support to Mahapatra. She has secured support from Samajwadi Party’s Rampal Yadav, Bahujan Samaj Party’s Bala Prasad Awasthi, Apna Dal’s RK Verma and Nationalist Congress Party’s Fateh Bahadur – all of whom have become her proposers in the election form. Yadav has already been expelled from the SP but he is unperturbed.

Cross-voting has taken place even earlier but this time it is different. It is not the case of individuals alone, or just the numbers game, which is at play. The principal political parties, the Congress and BJP, have put their prestige at stake.

Besides politics, money, as usual, is playing an important role in these elections. It has been proved from a sting operation conducted by India Today TV which showed crores of rupees being “offered” to independent lawmakers in Karnataka to vote for Congress or JD(S) nominees for four seats. The legislators, mostly from smaller parties, were seen talking about money in lieu of their support in the upcoming Rajya Sabha elections.

The sting showed one of the lawmakers asking to be paid over Rs 5 crore. A candidate said, on the condition of anonymity, “Without any expenditure no one can win elections today. Rs 25 crore was spent the last time around.”

 

 

Another MLA said, “JD(S) came and offered me Rs 7 crore for voting for their candidate. But the Congress will give me Rs 100 crore for my constituency development. They will even offer me some chairman post of some board, that is what they are saying.”

Union rural development minister Chaudhary Birender Singh, who was a Congress Rajya Sabha MP then, had caused a political earthquake when in July, 2013 he claimed that an MP of the Upper House had boasted to have spent Rs 80 crore for a ticket.

The MP had bragged that he managed to save Rs 20 crore on the deal, as he kept a budget of Rs 100 crore aside. He also alleged that there were many MPs who, by virtue of being wealthy, could easily enter the Upper House. To prove his point, Singh referred to media reports which said that after the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, about 360 crorepatis, including a dozen-and-a-half multi-billionaires (Arabpatis), had become MPs.

Like Uttar Pradesh, elections have been necessitated in Karnataka, which is credited with showing the way for bringing in the money culture in Rajya Sabha elections. Absconding industrialist Vijay Mallya had blatantly cross-connected with all major political parties – Congress, JD(S) and BJP – to get elected for two terms, in 2002 for the first time and again in 2010.

However, faced with the prospect of getting expelled, he was forced to resign before his second term came to an end. Subsequently, there have been several industrialists who have been elected on the basis of their wealth.

The murky politics in Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka shows how Rajya Sabha elections can go the Lok Sabha way.

 

 

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