Even the unprecedented can be unsurprising. For the first time, the Election Commission of India has been forced to countermand an election to the Rajya Sabha: in Jharkhand, following “incidents of horse-trading” and attempts to influence the electors — Members of the Legislative Assembly — by offering cash for votes. Until now, the bribing of electors has never been a visible factor in elections to the Upper House of Parliament, unlike in Lok Sabha or Assembly elections, where the poll process is routinely suspended as candidates come up with different ways of luring or pressuring voters. However, the seizure of Rs.2.15 crore in cash from a car belonging to the brother of an independent candidate in the Rajya Sabha election from Jharkhand could not have come as a total shocker. The surprise, actually, was in the seizure, not in the attempt to bribe. When the candidates are few and the electorate is small, as is always the case in Rajya Sabha elections, malpractices normally escape public attention. Jharkhand certainly was not the first instance of moneybags seeking easy entry into the Rajya Sabha. Industrialists and businessmen have always found a way to enter the Upper House. The preferred mode of operation, however, is striking a deal with top party leaders, not individual MLAs. In recent times, several industrialists or their representatives and lobbyists have entered the Rajya Sabha through this door with little or no affiliation to the party that supported them. Once elected, these MPs are under no obligation to their electors, and further their own personal or business agenda in Parliament.
The Jharkhand case, however, has its peculiarities. Two seats were at stake in the Rajya Sabha election, but no party was in a position to win even one without the help of others. With five candidates, including two independents, in the fray, the field was wide open for a dark horse. The Bharatiya Janata Party at first announced its support for a Non-Resident Indian businessman, but backtracked following criticism. It later talked of abstaining from the vote, but finally announced support for its ally, the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha. In such circumstances, the two independents, both with considerable financial clout, must have fancied their chances, and lobbied hard with the MLAs. The EC did the right thing in countermanding the election after the cash seizure as the situation was getting murkier by the hour. But unless it is able to prove wrongdoing by some of the candidates, and then disqualify them, the same set of circumstances will be repeated when the elections are held again.