Rajya Sabha polls | BJP gains in U.P., Himachal Pradesh amid cross-voting

Congress candidate Abhishek Manu Singhvi loses in Himachal; in Uttar Pradesh, BJP wins eight seats out of 10, one more than it was expected to win

February 27, 2024 10:47 pm | Updated February 28, 2024 07:19 am IST - CHANDIGARH/LUCKNOW

Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu and Congress candidate Abhishek Manu Singhvi address a press conference in Shimla on February 27, 2024. Mr. Singhvi lost the election for the Rajya Sabha seat in the State.

Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu and Congress candidate Abhishek Manu Singhvi address a press conference in Shimla on February 27, 2024. Mr. Singhvi lost the election for the Rajya Sabha seat in the State. | Photo Credit: PTI

Rajya Sabha polls in Uttar Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh went down to the wire, with heavy cross-voting by Samajwadi Party (SP) and Congress MLAs respectively, and the BJP walking away with two extra seats than its Assembly strength permitted. The BJP’s victory has already imperilled the Congress government in Himachal, with Leader of the Opposition Jairam Thakur scheduled to meet with Governor Shiv Pratap Shukla on Wednesday.

In Himachal Pradesh, BJP candidate Harsh Mahajan won the election to the lone Rajya Sabha seat in the fray from the State defeating Congress’s Abhishek Manu Singhvi on the basis of a draw of lots, following a tie on votes.

In Uttar Pradesh, the BJP won eight seats out of 10, one more than it was expected to win, with Sanjay Seth of the saffron party pipping former bureaucrat Alok Ranjan of the SP. Second preference votes are still being counted. In all, seven SP MLAs are said to have cross-voted in favour of the BJP candidate in Uttar Pradesh.

Rajya Sabha elections | A ‘victory amidst loss’, says JD(S)

In Himachal Pradesh, Congress candidate Mr. Singhvi and the BJP’s Mr. Mahajan secured 34 votes each. In the 68- member Assembly, votes of the 35 MLAs were required to win. The ruling Congress has 40 MLAs, The BJP has 25 MLAs while three are independent MLAs.

Vulnerability exposed

The defeat of the Congress’s official nominee in Himachal has exposed the vulnerability of the State government’s continuance, with the BJP getting emboldened, and it is expected to bring a no-confidence motion in the ongoing Budget session itself, which is to end on February 29.

The result has also brought to the fore the factionalism within the Congress State unit, besides the party Central leadership’s miscalculation in fielding a candidate (Mr. Singhvi), who was seen as an “outsider”, and had resulted in discontent among a section of Congress MLAs. It was the first time since 1952 when a non-Himachali was nominated. Mr. Singhvi, who handles most of the legal issues of the party and the top leadership, notably the Gandhis, was chosen over party veteran from the State and former Union Minister Anand Sharma. Not only this, certain Congress MLAs have publicly expressed displeasure over the working of the government under the leadership of the incumbent Chief Minister Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu.

The BJP’s move to field Mr. Mahajan, a veteran leader, who left the Congress to join the BJP in 2022, ahead of the State Assembly election, was seen as an apt move against the backdrop of ‘factionalism’ within the Congress’s State leaders.

Alok Ranjan loses

In Uttar Pradesh, all the BJP candidates — Sudhanshu Trivedi, former Union Minister R.P.N. Singh, former Agra Mayor Navin Jain, former State Minister Sangeeta Balwant, former MLA Sadhna Singh, Amarpal Maurya, Chaudhary Tejveer Singh and Sanjay Seth — were declared winners as they polled the requisite number of MLA votes. Out of three SP candidates, only two — actor-turned-politician Jaya Bachchan and former MP Ramji Lal Suman — were elected, while 1978-batch former Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer Mr. Alok Ranjan lost by polling only 19 first preference votes. The required number of first preference votes of MLAs was 37. “We were not defeated by the BJP, but cheated by those who are elected by our voters. The Rajya Sabha polls highlighted blatant misuse of resources and government machinery. The BJP will get tough lessons from the common voters in the upcoming Lok Sabha poll 2024,” said Sunil Singh Yadav ‘Sajan’, SP national spokesperson.

The SP MLAs who were said to have cross-voted included Manoj Pandey, the party’s chief whip in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly, Rakesh Pandey, Rakesh Pratap Singh, Vinod Chaturvedi, Abhay Singh, Ashutosh Maurya and Pooja Pal. Earlier in the day, Mr. Manoj Pandey, who is elected from Unchahar Assembly seat, resigned as the party’s chief whip. The SP had 108 MLAs in the Assembly.

“Our third seat [bid] in the Rajya Sabha was actually a test to identify true companions. It was to know who is with people from the backward classes, Dalits and minority communities and whose inner voice is against them. Now everything is clear, this is our third seat victory,” wrote SP president Akhilesh Yadav on X. The ‘inner voice’ comment was considered a jibe at rebel MLAs who said in the morning that they had listened to their “inner voice”.

In the 403-member Uttar Pradesh Assembly, with four seats remaining vacant, the BJP has 252 members; while its partners Apna Dal (Sonelal) has 13 members, Nirbal Indian Shoshit Hamara Apna Dal (NISHAD) Party has six members, the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) is with nine MLAs and Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party (SBSP) led by Om Prakash Rajbhar has six MLAs, two members of Jansatta Dal Loktantrik and one member of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). The BJP needed 296 votes to get elected all its eight candidates.

The aggressive push by the BJP ahead of the announcement of poll dates for the Lok Sabha was aimed at demonstrating the party’s drawing power and it will have a spin-off effect beyond the events of this Tuesday.

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