Tainted elections

Print edition : July 04, 1998

A DAY after the results of the biennial elections to the Rajya Sabha were announced, Chief Election Commissioner M.S. Gill lamented the role money and muscle power had played in shaping the results. "I am sad," he said, "that some candidates who are known for their ability to use money and muscle power have got elected." And the CEC asked: "If things go on like this, how can you run a democracy and an electoral system?"

This is the most pertinent question that has been thrown up by the elections to 32 seats in five States - Maharashtra, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Bihar. The elections were characterised by rampant cross-voting by legislators of all parties except the Left parties, making it obvious that the elected representatives of the people were only too willing to give up their ideological commitments for money or other considerations. Voting in Rajya Sabha elections does not come under the purview of the anti-defection law, and this facilitated such conduct.

A MAJOR fallout of the elections was that internal problems intensified in almost all political parties, the worst affected party being the Congress(I) and the Biju Janata Dal (BJD). Cross-voting by Congress(I) MLAs and related developments in Maharashtra have assumed such political significance that even the party's organisational cohesiveness at the national level is under threat.

The elections gave other parties, including the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Shiv Sena, the Samajwadi Party (S.P.) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), also cause for concern about the manner in which their respective organisational machinery functions.

The two major participants in the elections, the BJP and the Congress(I), ended up with eight seats each. The Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the S.P. won three seats each, the Shiv Sena two, the Uttar Pradesh Loktantrik Congress (UPLC), the Jantantrik Bahujan Samaj Party (JBSP), the Jharkhand Mukthi Morcha and the Communist Party of India one each. The Congress(I) and the BJP lost one seat each they were sure of winning - the Congress(I) in Maharashtra and the BJP in Rajasthan. It was the Shiv Sena-BJP-supported independent candidate Suresh Kalmadi, who broke away from the Congress(I) before the last Lok Sabha elections, who gained from the defeat of the Congress(I) nominee, Ram Pradhan, in Maharashtra. Similarly, the defeat of R.P. Modi, a BJP-supported independent and an outgoing Rajya Sabha member, in Rajasthan helped Congress(I) candidate Santhosh Bagrodiya win, Both the winners benefited from cross-voting.

The results represented yet another reverse for the BJP - the BJD, its ally in Orissa, failed to win the one seat it thought it would surely win.

The defeat of BJD nominee A.U. Singhdeo led to the suspension of five MLAs for alleged cross-voting by them. This action has triggered a major crisis in the party, and indications are that the BJD is heading for a split.

Suresh Kalmadi, who was supported by the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance, celebrates his victory.-VIVEK BENDRE

The suspended MLAs are supporters of Bijay Mahapatra, chairman of the BJD's Political Affairs Committee. Mahapatra had opposed Singhdeo's candidature. The suspended MLAs argue that party president Navin Patnaik does not have the authority to take action against them since he is only a "figurehead". Bijoyshree Routray, one of them, told Frontline: "It was we who formed the BJD, based on the ideals of former Chief Minister Biju Patnaik. We asked Navin Patnaik to lead the party only because he is Biju Patnaik's son." The dissidents are said to have the support of a section of party MPs. The state of affairs in Orissa cannot but have its impact on national politics.

THE BJP-led coalition faced tense moments in Uttar Pradesh as well, owing to cross-voting. Only two of the BJP's five official candidates, Arun Shourie and Sangha Priya Gautam, won in the first round. The other three, T.N. Chaturvedi, Dinanath Mishra and B.P. Singhal, scraped through in the third, fourth and fifth round respectively.

In contrast, D.P. Yadav of the JBSP and A.H. Rizvi of the UPLC, accused by their opponents of having links with the mafia, won in the first round. Despite the fact that he has only 19 MLAs in his party, D.P. Yadav got as many as 42 first-preference votes. By informal estimates, as many as 16 BJP MLAs gave preference to D.P. Yadav over their own party candidates. The events in the BJP before and during the elections have led to allegations that Chief Minister Kalyan Singh himself encouraged cross-voting. According to a senior party leader, Kalyan Singh was keen to ensure that D.P. Yadav won. He said that the Chief Minister presented D.P. Yadav at the BJP Legislature Party meeting and this action was criticised by several members of the party.

Cross-voting in U.P. did not spare the S.P., the Congress(I) and the BSP. The S.P. managed to get only one of its candidates, Ram Gopal Yadav, through the first round, although it has, together with the CPI(M), which supported it, 116 votes - enough to ensure the victory of all its three candidates in the first round. The other two S.P. candidates, Ramashankar Kaushik and Munawar Hussain, won in subsequent rounds. Ghufran Zaidi, the Congress(I) candidate, had a difficult time although he was supported by the S.P. However, he scraped through eventually. It is estimated that as many as seven Congress(I) MLAs voted for UPLC candidate Rizvi.

Although it was the Congress(I) that suffered the most in Maharashtra owing to cross-voting, the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance had its share of problems. The alliance, which has 145 MLAs - 75 of the Shiv Sena, 66 of the BJP and four independents who are Ministers of State - secured only 125 first-preference votes for its three candidates. Only one of the alliance's candidates, Pramod Mahajan of the BJP, crossed the 41-vote mark in the first round: he won 49 first-preference votes. The alliance's other two candidates, the Shiv Sena's Pritish Nandy and Satish Pradhan, secured 38 votes each and won only in the second and fifth round respectively.

According to sources in the BJP, the party had, at the eleventh hour, transferred to Kalmadi four of the 50 first-preference votes allotted to Pramod Mahajan. While admitting that "one or two" BJP legislators had voted in defiance of the whip, the sources claimed that three Congress(I) MLAs had cast their first-preference votes in favour of Mahajan. If this version is true, at least 13 Shiv Sena members resorted to cross-voting.

The main beneficiaries of the cross-voting were Kalmadi and Vijay Darda, the other independent candidate. Darda, a newspaper magnate, had the Congress(I)'s "moral support", to use Sharad Pawar's words. Darda, with 45 first-preference votes in his favour, was the only candidate other than Mahajan to get through in the first round. His victory, like that of D.P. Yadav's and Rizvi's in U.P., proves that factors other than political commitment played a major role in these elections. The one factor that is common to the majority of the surprise winners - Darda, Kalmadi, Rizvi, D.P. Yadav and Bagrodiya - is their money power and strong connections with business and industry.

It is in this context that the CEC's concerns about the future of democracy and the electoral process become important. The problem can, however, be addressed only if the country's political parties do some serious introspection about the way they are functioning. But how many parties are ready and willing to do this?

(With inputs from R. Padmanabhan in Mumbai)
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