Rajya Sabha election pointers

Print edition : March 30, 2002

The biennial elections to the Rajya Sabha are expected to expose again the lack of cohesion in the National Democratic Alliance.

AFTER Uttar Pradesh, yet another important North Indian State, Bihar, is set to deliver a body blow to the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). While NDA constituents fought against one another in several constituencies and put up a poor showing in the recent Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, in Bihar the test came with the Rajya Sabha elections, polling for which was scheduled for March 27. The biennial Rajya Sabha elections are set to expose yet again the lack of cohesion in the alliance.

RJD president Laloo Prasad Yadav with Bihar Chief Minister Rabri Devi in Patna on March 9.-RANJEET KUMAR

Six candidates are in the fray in Bihar for five vacancies. While the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) is comfortably placed with its three candidates, the NDA has become the laughing stock of the State. With a strength of 84 in the 243-member House, the NDA could have taken the remaining two seats because a candidate could win with 41 first preference votes. But all the four major NDA constituents from the State, the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Samata Party, the Janata Dal (United) and the Lok Janshakti, led by Union Coal and Mines Minister Ram Vilas Paswan, fielded their candidates.

The BJP, which has a strength of 35, renominated its sitting member Shatrughan Sinha. (Interestingly, the one-time actor had been sulking for a while and initially even refused to campaign for the party in the U.P. Assembly elections.) The Samata Party, which has 30 MLAs, declared that Bashistha Narain Singh was its nominee. Both the candidates could have won had the 12 MLAs of the Janata Dal(U) and seven of the Lok Janshakti decided to vote in their favour. However, the Janata Dal(U) and the Lok Janshakti declared their support for Dr. Ranjan Prasad Yadav, who was expelled from the RJD for anti-party activities in 2001 and is contesting as an independent. Ranjan Yadav, who was the RJD's leader in the Rajya Sabha until he was expelled, was once considered the principal strategist of the party. But he developed differences with RJD president Laloo Prasad Yadav. The presence of Ranjan Yadav queered the pitch for the NDA in Bihar, and whatever the outcome on March 27, NDA unity was the casualty.

While Bihar will put to test the NDA's ability to stick together, it also has the potential to change the political landscape at the Centre, by sending Laloo Prasad Yadav to the Upper House. Laloo Prasad has filed his nomination from the State along with two of his party's sitting MPs, Ramdeo Bhandari and Prem Kumar Gupta. The RJD, which has 115 MLAs, can ensure the victory of all three. However, the question is why Laloo Prasad has decided to re-enter national politics. Primarily a mass leader like Mulayam Singh Yadav, Laloo Prasad is later expected to contest the Lok Sabha elections.

According to political observers, Laloo Prasad's entry into the Rajya Sabha is part of a larger game plan of the Congress(I). The Congress(I), which is sensing a win in the next round of Lok Sabha elections, has to revive itself in the Hindi belt if it were to achieve its objectives. However, to re-establish itself in the Hindi belt it needs the support of a secular, grassroots-level politician who can win the support of the minorities. His party having bounced back to power for a record third consecutive term in Bihar despite all odds, Laloo Prasad has proved that he has his ear firmly on the ground. Moreover, unlike Mulayam Singh Yadav, Laloo Prasad has apparently accepted the fact that the Congress(I) will be in power tomorrow and party president Sonia Gandhi could well be the next Prime Minister. By making Laloo Prasad campaign extensively for its candidates in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections, the Congress(I) has given a hint of its larger game plan. Laloo Prasad makes no secret of his intentions either. He said: "This Ramlila party needs to be packed off from Delhi lock, stock and barrel. That is why I am coming to Delhi, to uproot the communal forces."

In Jharkhand, Orissa and Karnataka too, NDA unity will be under strain because of the presence of candidates of various constituents of the front and their conflicting claims of support. In Orissa, the BJP and the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) are pitted against each other because of the presence of Dr. Dilip Ray, who was expelled from the BJD, as an independent candidate. Ray, a founder-member of the BJD and a former member of the Atal Behari Vajpayee Ministry, was removed from the Ministry and expelled from the party after he developed differences with Navin Patnaik, Orissa Chief Minister and BJD president. Ray's attempts to secure the support of BJP members are likely to create problems between the two parties. Moreover, Ray's presence may queer the pitch for the BJP's official nominee, Surendra Lath. Six candidates are in the fray for four vacancies from the State: two from the BJD, one from the BJP, one from the Congress(I) and two independents, including Ray. On the basis of their collective strength, the BJD could have won two seats and the BJP one.

In Karnataka, the presence of industrialist Vijay Mallya has created distrust among NDA constituents, the BJP and the Janata Dal(U). Mallya was sponsored by the Janata Dal(U) despite the fact that the BJP had its official nominee. In such a situation, the BJP's nominee, Tara Devi Siddhartha, may find the going tough and it can further sour relations between the partners. Similarly, in Jharkhand the Samata Party has declared its support for the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha's Shibu Soren and not the BJP candidate.

WHILE the NDA thus appears to be in disarray everywhere, the Congress(I) has emerged stronger, in terms of both numbers and leadership quality. The Congress(I), which has a majority in the Rajya Sabha, is likely to improve its tally by three or four seats. Although only 19 of its members are retiring, the party has fielded 23 candidates. Apparently, the decision shows the party's confidence of emerging victorious even in States where it would require support from other parties. For example, in Orissa the Congress(I) has 25 members in the 147-member House and would need five more votes to ensure the victory of its candidate. Yet the party has re-nominated its sitting MP, Maurice Kujur. Similarly, in West Bengal, where the party has fielded the economist Arjun Sengupta, it hopes to get the numbers from the Trinamul Congress and other parties.

Surprisingly, the usual haggling over nominations and the several rounds of discussion with regional satraps that are regular features in the Congress(I) in the run-up to all major elections, were absent this time. According to senior Congress(I) leaders, the names were finalised by Sonia Gandhi in consultation with Kamal Nath, Arjun Singh and Ghulam Nabi Azad. Chief Ministers of various Congress(I)-ruled States, such as Digvijay Singh of Madhya Pradesh, Ajit Jogi of Chhatisgarh, Tarun Gogoi of Assam, S.M. Krishna of Karnataka and Vilasrao Deshmukh of Maharashtra, were not consulted about candidates from their respective States. While Digvijay Singh had to accept Obeidullah Khan Azmi and Suresh Pachauri as the nominees from Madhya Pradesh, Jogi not only failed to get the nomination for his candidate Ramanuj Yadav but had to accept Motilal Vora's candidature. While Vilasrao Deshmukh could not get S.B. Chavan nominated, S.M. Krishna's nominee, Prema Cariappa, the Mayor of Bangalore and the daughter of Field Marshal K.M. Cariappa, the first chief of the Army of free India, did not figure in the list of candidates issued by the high command. Some notable names were conspicuous by their absence on the list. While industrialist K.K. Birla failed to secure a renomination from Rajasthan, senior leaders such as S.B. Chavan and N.K.P. Salve were denied the ticket.

On the other hand, senior leader K. Natwar Singh, party treasurer Motilal Vora, former party spokesperson Prithviraj Chauhan, party media cell secretary T. Subbirami Reddy and former treasurer Murli Deora managed to secure nomination as "rewards" for their "performance".

In contrast, the only notable aspect regarding the BJP list was the absence of former party president of the Tehelka fame, Bangaru Laxman, and the party's only Muslim face in the Rajya Sabha, Sikandar Bakht. Interestingly, Bakht, a long-time member of the Rajya Sabha, lost his seat to the glamorous Maya Singh, the party's new spokesperson. Others in the BJP list included party president Jana Krishnamurthi, Shatrughan Sinha, Union Minister for Shipping Ved Prakash Goyal and former Gujarat Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel.

Some candidates were declared elected unopposed. Jana Krishnamurthi, Keshubhai Patel and BJP State unit vice-president Jayantibhai Barot and the Congress(I)'s Alkaben Kshatriya were declared elected from Gujarat. While Motilal Vora, Ramadhar Kashyap and Nabam Rebia of the Congress(I) were declared elected from Chhatisgarh and Arunachal Pradesh respectively, the Indian National Lok Dal's Sumitra Mahajan and Harinder Malik were declared elected from Haryana. From Maharashtra, Ved Prakash Goyal of the BJP, Eknath Thakur and R.N. Dhoot of the Shiv Sena, Murli Deora and Prithviraj Chauhan of the Congress(I) and Datta Meghe and Mukesh Patel of the Nationalist Congress Party were declared elected. From Madhya Pradesh, the Congress(I)'s Suresh Pachauri and Obeidullah Azmi and the BJP's Maya Singh were declared elected. Telugu Desam Party general secretary Lal Jan Basha, spokesperson R. Chandrashekhar Reddy, party leader A. Sudarshan, party's women's wing leader N.P. Durga, and the Congress(I)'s Subbirami Reddy and Nandi Yellaih were declared elected from Andhra Pradesh. From Tamil Nadu, Tamil Maanila Congress chief G.K. Vasan, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam's candidates N. Jyoti, C. Perumal, Thanga Tamilselvan, and S.P.M. Syed Khan, and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam nominee R. Shanmugasundaram were declared elected. While most of the 59 candidates from 17 States were declared elected unopposed, elections for the remaining seats in Bihar, Karnataka, Rajasthan, West Bengal, Orissa and Jharkhand, were to be held on March 27.

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