With Rajya Sabha polls close on the heels, the Congress party’s fears of poaching and cross-voting by its MLAs have resulted in the return of resort politics. The party’s Haryana and Rajasthan units have packed their MLAs to resorts in Raipur and Udaipur respectively. This comes at a time when the Congress has faced criticism for its choice of candidates for the Rajya Sabha polls and backlash from its state units and MLAs—whose votes are needed for the party to send its nominees to the upper house. In both Haryana and Rajasthan, it is the entry of two media barons in the election contest that has made life difficult for the Congress.
Interestingly in both states, Congress has faced flak for fielding 'outsiders'.
Worry in Haryana Over Repeat of 2016 'Betrayal'
The last-minute entry of media baron Kartikeya Sharma in the Haryana Rajya Sabha contest doesn’t bode well for the Congress. Sharma, who is the son of former Congress leader Venod Sharma, has been backed by the Jannayak Janata Party (JJP).
Venod Sharma, a former veteran Haryana Congress leader who quit the party in 2014 for anti-party activities, and in general hadn’t seen much limelight since his other son Manu Sharma was convicted for the murder of Jessica Lall in the high-profile case. Venod Sharma is known to be close to several Haryana Congress leaders including former CM Bhupinder Hooda. Hooda in turn doesn't share a great equation with the Congress’ nominee to the Rajya Sabha from Haryana Ajay Maken, sources said.
In the 90-member Haryana Assembly, the BJP has 40 MLAs while the Congress has 31. While each party needs just 30 votes to send its candidate to the Rajya Sabha, whether all 31 Congress MLAs will back Maken, who is already struggling with the ‘outsider’ tag, is a big question mark.
In such a scenario, the Congress is fearing chances cross-voting by some of its MLAs in favor of Sharma over Maken. This is all the more plausible given how party MLA Kuldeep Bishnoi has kept his distance from the party’s activities for a while now, ever since he wasn’t considered for the post of Congress’ state unit chief in the revamp earlier this year.
On Thursday, the Congress flocked its MLAs together at the residence of party MP Deepender Hooda in Delhi, from where a chartered flight took them to a resort in Chhattisgarh’s Raipur. However at least 3 MLAs did not show up at Hooda’s residence, including Bishnoi, Kiran Choudhary and Chiranjeev Rao.
The worry among the Haryana Congress unit is also because of the memory from 2016 when a dozen of its MLAs were disqualified because of the use of the incorrect ink for voting, reducing the number of ‘valid’ votes paving the way for another independent at the time to win the seat: media baron Subhash Chandra.
Uneasy Congress After BJP Backs Chandra in Rajasthan
Incidentally, this time Subhash Chandra is contesting from Rajasthan.
40 Rajasthan Congress MLAs and a few independents were taken to a resort in Udaipur on Thursday—incidentally the same one where the party held its grand Chintan Shivir last month.
There are four seats up for grabs from Rajasthan and Congress has fielded 3 candidates in the state: Randeep Singh Surjewala, Mukul Wasnik and Pramod Tiwari. Meanwhile, the BJP had fielded Ghanshyam Tiwari as its candidate. However, things got complicated when Subhash Chandra threw his hat in the ring, with support from the BJP. This means that now the competition for the four seats has increased, and the Congress is flexing its muscles to ensure the maths adds up in its favor.
Rajasthan is a 200-member assembly, and the Congress enjoys a majority with 108 MLAs. This means each candidate needs at least 41 votes to win. The Congress won’t find it difficult to elect 2 of its candidates, but for the third candidate, the party will be left with just 26 votes and needs a minimum of 15 more.
The BJP, on the other hand, has 71 MLAs in the Rajasthan assembly and while it should be able to comfortably elect one candidate (Tiwari), it will be left with just 30 votes and will need at least 11 more to ensure it can send Chandra to the upper house.
It is in such a situation that the independent candidates (13), and candidates from other smaller parties like CPI-M (2), BTP (2) and RLP (3) are being approached for support by both the Congress and the BJP.
Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot has said that the BJP is "playing tricks of horse-trading" but that he is confident the Congress will win 3 of the 4 Rajasthan seats to the Rajya Sabha.