Voting to defeat

Surprise victories and shock defeats are usually the stuff of the direct elections; much less frequently that of indirect elections to the Rajya Sabha. When elections to the Upper House throw up a surprise, they usually reveal stories of dissension and, on occasion, extraneous influences of a dubious sort. The unexpected jolts in the last round of Rajya Sabha elections were caused by MLAs in the Congress in Haryana and the Janata Dal (Secular) in Karnataka. Strategies drawn up at the leadership level came to naught as the legislators, dissatisfied with the choice of candidates or the style of decision-making, ensured the defeat of official nominees. The Congress high command decided to ignore the early warning signs in Haryana, blinkered by the overwhelming desire to defeat the independent candidate sponsored by the Bharatiya Janata Party — media baron Subhash Chandra. For the Haryana unit of the party, the course adopted by its leadership, of joining hands with the Indian National Lok Dal to support the lawyer R.K. Anand, made little political sense as the two parties are fighting for the same political space in the State. In this instance, the interests of the national leadership and those of the State unit were in direct conflict. The Congress high command was more intent on reducing the support for the BJP in the Rajya Sabha, if only by one. But the party’s MLAs were more concerned about how the battlelines are drawn in Haryana. What makes the situation worse for the Congress is that it is in no position to act against the rebels. The 15 MLAs, who very deliberately invalidated their votes, have the backing of large sections of the State unit, led from the front by former Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda. It is the national leadership of the party that will have to pay heed to this message.

In Karnataka, it was the Congress that was the beneficiary of another party’s internal bickering. Dissidence within the JD(S) has a longer history, and the cross-voting had more to do with dissatisfaction with the leadership's style of functioning than with the choice of candidate. Although some of the rebels are considered close to Congress Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, who was formerly with the JD(S), their vote was largely a signal to the JD(S) leadership, and not so much out of love for the Congress. In Uttar Pradesh, the Congress managed to get Kapil Sibal elected despite some cross-voting in favour of Preeti Mahapatra, a Gujarat-origin entrepreneur considered close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Like in some earlier Rajya Sabha elections, there was evidence in this round of wealthy candidates securing votes across party lines, reinforcing the belief that elections to the Upper House continue to be influenced by the power of money.

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