RS polls see cross-voting: Big upset for Congress in HP

The Asian Age With Agency Inputs

India, Politics

Out of the 56 Rajya Sabha seats that went to the polls, 41 members have virtually secured their seats in the Upper House

Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu with Congress candidate Abhishek Manu Singhvi addresses a press conference after the later lost the election for the Rajya Sabha seat, in Shimla, Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024. (PTI Photo)

New Delhi: Under the shadow of cross-voting in three states, the lawmakers on Tuesday voted for the 15 Rajya Sabha seats — Uttar Pradesh (10), Himachal Pradesh (1) and Karnataka (4). The Congress won three in Karnataka, while one went to the BJP. In Uttar Pradesh, the BJP bagged eight seats, while two went to the Samajwadi Party, whose seven MLAs cross-voted. However, the biggest political drama unfolded in Shimla, where a draw of lots was done to end the tie between the Congress’s Abhishek Manu Singhvi and the BJP’s Harsh Mahajan after six grand old party MLAs cross-voted in favour of the saffron party’s pick.

Out of the 56 Rajya Sabha seats that went to the polls, 41 members have virtually secured their seats in the Upper House. On Tuesday, voting took place for 15 seats, which saw mixed results and some high drama.

In Himachal Pradesh, Mr Singhvi needed just 35 votes to win the seat. The Congress, which has 40 MLAs in a House of 68, besides the support of three independent lawmakers, was comfortably placed to win the election.

However, sensing trouble in the Congress camp, the BJP, with 25 MLAs, fielded former Congress leader Mr Mahajan against Mr Singhvi, terming him an “outsider”. The gambit paid off, the BJP got the support of six Congress MLAs and three independents.

Both Mr Singhvi and Mr Mahajan got 34 votes each. To break the tie, a draw of lots was conducted, in which luck favoured the BJP candidate. The result threw more challenges for the Congress government in the hill state as the BJP, which is in the Opposition, is now planning to bring a no-confidence motion in the state Assembly.

Himachal Pradesh chief minister Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu said those who cross-voted have “sold their souls”. Adding to the drama, the Congress chief minister alleged that his six MLAs have been “kidnapped by the BJP” and taken to Haryana.

The Congress is plagued by dissent from the former Himachal Congress CM Virbhadra Singh lobby, including his son Vikramaditya Singh and his wife and Congress state president Pratibha Singh. Mr Mahajan, once a close confidante and strategist for Virbhadra Singh, joined the BJP after being snubbed by the Congress ahead of the last Assembly polls.

Ironically, the Himachal CM had claimed it to be a safe seat for Congress leader Sonia Gandhi for the Rajya Sabha. Sources claim that for the last three months, the Congress state president has been saying that there is resentment among the MLAs. Many veteran MLAs were not made ministers; this started the rebellion, but there was no opportunity to protest openly.
Himchal Pradesh Leader of the Opposition Jairam Thakur has demanded the resignation of Himachal Pradesh chief minister. Mr Thakur said: “We are rightly saying that looking at this victory, the Himachal Pradesh CM should resign from his position. The MLAs have left him just within a year.”

The budget session of the Himachal Pradesh Assembly is ongoing. Sensing an opportunity, the BJP is all set to go in for the jugular by bringing in a no-confidence motion. The Congress’s clever footwork may save its government, but insiders claim that the position of the chief minister is untenable.

After the result, Mr Singhvi congratulated Mr Mahajan. He said: “He deserves my congratulations. I would like to tell his party...introspect and think. When a 25-member party fields a candidate against a 43-member party, there is just one message -- we will shamelessly do that which is not permitted by the law…”

Compared to Himachal Pradesh, things were easier for the Congress in Karnataka, where the party won three seats. Party candidates Ajay Maken, Nasser Hussain and G.C. Chandrashekar emerged victorious.

On the other hand, BJP candidate Narayansa Bhandage won one seat. The fifth candidate, JD(S) leader D. Kupendra Reddy, lost the election by 36 votes.

Karnataka deputy chief minister D.K. Shivakumar dug in his heels to ensure that all three Congress candidates win. One BJP MLA and one independent MLA are believed to have voted for the Congress candidate, tilting the scale in its favour.

In Uttar Pradesh, the BJP fielded eight candidates and the Opposition Samajwadi Party three for the 10 Rajya Sabha seats.

The BJP won all eight seats, while two went to the SP -- actor turned MP Jaya Bachchan and Dalit leader Ramji Lal Suman won.

The BJP and the SP had the numbers to send seven and three members, respectively, to the Upper House of Parliament, but with the BJP fielding eight, it became another contest. Seven SP MLAs cross-voted in favour of the BJP.

The SP had fielded Ms Bachchan, retired IAS officer Alok Ranjan and Mr Suman.

The BJP had fielded former SP MLA and industrialist Sanjay Seth, former Union minister R.P.N Singh, former MP Chaudhary Tejveer Singh, general secretary of the party’s UP unit Amarpal Maurya and former state minister Sangeeta Balwant, party spokesperson Sudhanshu Trivedi, former MLA Sadhna Singh and former Agra mayor Naveen Jain.

In the closely contested situation, BJP MLA Neel Ratan Patel arrived in an ambulance to cast his vote. He has been on ventilator support at Medanta Hospital for a few days. The Samajwadi Party has raised an objection with the Election Commission saying voting by Mr Patel was not physically done by him as he was on a ventilator.

SP chief Akhilesh Yadav said action will be taken against the erring MLAs and “those looking to profit from the situation will leave.” A day before the voting, eight SP MLAs skipped Mr Yadav’s dinner meeting and on Tuesday morning, Manoj Pandey resigned as SP’s chief whip.

“Those who want to profit from the situation will go. Those who were given assurances (by the BJP) will go… Our third seat in the Rajya Sabha (polls) was actually a test to identify the true friends and to know who was with the PDA at heart and who was against the backward classes, dalits and minorities by their ‘antaratma’ (conscience). Now everything is clear; this is the victory of the third seat,” Mr Yadav wrote in a post on X.

PDA is the acronym given by Mr Yadav for “pichhde, dalit and alpsankhyak” (backwards, dalits and minorities) ahead of the Lok Sabha polls.

"We had been saying from the beginning that all eight candidates of the BJP will win. All our eight candidates have won today. I congratulate all the winning candidates... The BJP’s vijay yatra that began in the Rajya Sabha will continue in the Lok Sabha polls and then go on till the Vidhan Sabha elections and even further...,” said Uttar Pradesh deputy chief minister Keshav Prasad Maurya.