Rajya Sabha Elections: How BJP Pulled Off Surprise Wins
The Bharatiya Janata Party has pulled off a couple of unexpected victories in the Rajya Sabha elections held on June 10. A total of 57 seats were up for re-election across 15 states in this round.
Elected members of state legislative assemblies participate in voting to elect Rajya Sabha MPs. Parties normally win seats in proportion to their strength in the state assembly. To win a Rajya Sabha seat, a candidate should get a required number of votes, called ‘quotient’.
Polling for a Rajya Sabha election is held only if the number of candidates exceeds the number of vacancies. In the 2022 round, For 41 of the 57 seats, Members of Parliament were elected unopposed on June 3, the last day of withdrawal of nomination. The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance won 17 (-1), Indian National Congress-led United Progressive Alliance 10 (-1), and regional parties took 14 (+2).
Of the 16 contested seats which went to polls in Maharashtra (6 seats), Karnataka (4), Haryana (2), and Rajasthan (4), BJP and its allies (National Democratic Alliance) have won 9 seats. 7 seats have been won by Congress and allies (United Progressive Alliance). The BJP was the incumbent in 11 of these 16 seats and going by its numerical strength in the state assemblies in question, it could have been certain of retaining only 6.
The BJP was staring at a 5-seat drop but contained its damage to 2 seats.
This was done by forcing a contest in additional seats by putting up an extra candidate in Maharashtra and Karnataka, and also backing one independent each—incidentally, both were media barons—in Haryana and Rajasthan. By the time the results were declared, the BJP had maximised its opportunities in all states barring Rajasthan, where it couldn’t outfox the Congress veteran and Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot.
While BJP lost seats in Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, and Jharkhand, it gained seats due to success in recent state elections in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, as well as gaining a majority in Karnataka. The Congress’ 2018 assembly victories in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh compensated for losses in Telangana, U.P., Punjab, and Uttarakhand. Regional parties gained in Andhra Pradesh (YSRCP) and Telangana (TRS) while losing significant ground in U.P. (BSP and SP).
Rajasthan: Gehlot Holds Firm
In Rajasthan all the 200 members voted, one BJP-MLA cross voted for Congress, and the vote of one Congress MLA was declared invalid. This meant a candidate required 3,981 first preference votes to win.
Of its remaining 70 MLAs, BJP transferred 43 to its own candidate Ghanshyam Tiwari and 27 votes to independent candidate Subhash Chandra. Chandra could muster only 3 additional MLAs from the Rashtriya Loktantrik Party, taking his total votes to 30 (with first preference votes counted as 30 x 100 = 3,000).
On the other hand, Congress kept its hold over the votes of all 126 MLAs that were backing its candidates—108 Congress MLAs, 2 from the Bharatiya Tribal Party, 2 CPI(M) MLAs, one of the Rashtriya Lok Dal, and all 13 independents.
Zee Group founder Subhash Chandra has been an independent MP, elected from Haryana six years ago with the backing of the BJP. This year, Chandra switched states to Rajasthan but lost. Rajasthan was the only state which didn’t see the counting of votes going to a second round.
Maharashtra: Fadnavis Trumps Thackeray
In Maharashtra, where six seats were up for grabs, BJP lacked the numbers to get its third candidate elected, after allocating votes to its first two. With 153 MLAs of the Shiv Sena, Nationalist Congress Party, and Indian National Congress, the Maha Vikas Aghadi would sail through on three seats and could make a bid for a fourth with its surplus votes and the support of some independents and smaller parties. Maharashtra has 29 MLAs from smaller parties and independents. Anti-BJP parties like AIMIM and Samajwadi Party had pledged the support of their 4 MLAs to the MVA.
While neither bloc had clear numbers for this sixth seat, the Shiv Sena candidate had an edge based on previous support for legislation in the state assembly by independents and smaller parties.
The first five candidates Sanjay Raut (Shiv Sena), Praful Patel (NCP), Imran Pratapgarhi (Congress), Anil Bonde, and Piyush Goyal (BJP) won on basis of first preference votes.
Shiv Sena’s trouble started on the morning of June 10 as Nawab Malik and Anil Deshmukh, the two MVA MLAs currently in jail, were not allowed to vote by the Bombay High Court. Additionally, one Sena MLA’s votes got invalidated.
Meanwhile, BJP appears to have cornered a lion’s share of the smaller parties and independent votes (17/29). All these factors compounded matters for Shiv Sena’s second candidate Sanjay Pawar who got just 33 MLAs backing him (3,300 first preference votes) while BJP’s third candidate Dhananjay Mahadik got 27 MLAs (2,700 first preference votes).
Did the Shiv Sena not pay much attention to second preference votes, because it was confident of winning the second seat in the first round?
On the other side of the aisle, the BJP candidate scraped through, gathering surplus votes of candidates that had won in the first round and second-preference votes.
Haryana Lives Up To Its Reputation
In the state that gave us the ‘aaya ram gaya ram’ quip for cross-voting, 88 of 90 votes were polled as one independent abstained while the vote of one Congress MLA was declared invalid. This brought down the number of first-preference votes required to win to 2,934.
BJP candidate Krishnalal Panwar secured 3,100 votes (31 of its MLAs voting for it) while Congress party’s Ajay Maken secured 2,900 votes. Congress MLA Kuldeep Bishnoi cross-voted for independent candidate Kartikeya Sharma--the owner of media group iTV Network--while one MLA’s vote was declared invalid. Sharma was backed by the Jannayak Janta Party and the BJP, which together run the government in the state. He secured 2,800 first preference votes (10 JJP MLAs, 9 from BJP, 8 smaller parties and independents, and Bishnoi from Congress). Since neither Maken nor Sharma got the required first preference votes, counting went to the second round.
Here again, Congress had no second preference votes marked, and with 166 surplus votes of Panwar (3,100-2,934), Kartikeya Sharma won a narrow victory with 2,966 votes.
Had the Congress MLA’s vote not got invalidated for putting a tick instead of marking it as ‘I’, Maken would have won.
The events in Haryana brought back memories of Subhash Chandra’s 2016 victory in Haryana, when 14 Congress votes were declared invalid over the use of a particular pen.
Karnataka: BJP Benefits From Congress-JD(S) Rift
In Karnataka, all MLAs voted, there was no invalid vote, so a candidate required 4,481 votes to win. Six candidates were in the fray for four seats, 3 from BJP, 2 put up by Congress, and 1 from the Janata Dal (Secular).
BJP’s Nirmala Sitharaman and Congress’ Jairam Ramesh won in the first round of counting, bagging 4,600 votes each (meaning 46 MLAs each of BJP and INC marked them as their first preference).
BJP’s second candidate Jaggesh got 4,400 votes while its third candidate Lehar Singh Siroya secured 3,300 votes with 31 BJP MLAs and two others. The second Congress candidate got 2,500 votes from 23 Congress MLAs and two JDs MLAs that cross-voted. JD(S) own candidate got 3,000 votes (32 MLAs minus the two who cross-voted).
Since neither of these candidates had the required minimum votes, counting moved to the second round. Both BJP candidates Jaggesh and Lehar won on account of second preference votes and surplus votes from Sitharaman.
Current House Strength
After this round of Rajya Sabha polls, the NDA has 112 seats in a house of 245, 11 short of a simple majority of 223. Congress and its allies have 65 seats while non-aligned regional parties occupy 64 seats. There are 7 nominated members, while 4 seats from Jammu & Kashmir and 1 seat in Karnataka are vacant.
In May 2021, this column had estimated the NDA tally to drop to 105-106 under two scenarios, wherein we had assumed BJP to retain its current seats in states going to polls or win these states with a simple majority.
In Uttar Pradesh, the BJP has gained four Rajya Sabha seats while it has pushed through extra seats in Karnataka and Haryana, accounting for the deviation from the estimate made a year ago.
That column estimated UPA tally to be 66-67, which is now 55. This larger-than-expected fall comes from the Congress Party's rout in elections in Punjab (-4), Uttar Pradesh (-1), and poor party management in Maharashtra, Haryana, and Assam early this year (-4).
Two parties, BJD(9) and YSRCP(9), have provided issue-based support to BJP in Parliament in the past, providing it with a working majority of 130 MPs.
Amitabh Tiwari is a political commentator, strategist, and consultant advising political parties and leaders. He was a corporate and investment banker.
The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of BQ Prime or its editorial team.