The Congress was able to secure a major victory in Rajasthan, but narrowly missed its chance at winning the Rajya Sabha seat in Haryana after high drama ensued in the state on Friday. After several riveting twists and turns, the Election Commission declared in the wee hours of Saturday that the two vacant seats in Haryana have been won by BJP’s candidate Krishan Panwar and BJP-JJP backed independent candidate Kartikeya Sharma. This came as a blow to the Congress party—many of whose members had already begun celebrating the ‘win’ for its candidate Ajay Maken.
It is Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot’s jaadu (magic) that is largely being credited for the 3 seats the party won in the state, and for Haryana, it is former state CM Bhupinder Hooda’s ‘monopoly’ that is being blamed for the loss.
Rebels in the Ranks of Haryana Congress Led to Loss
The Haryana contest was never expected to be an easy one for Congress— the party needed 30 votes to ensure its candidate Ajay Maken wins the seat, but the Congress was never sure that all 31 of its MLAs in the 90-member Haryana assembly will stay united. Until the last moment, it wasn’t clear who the rebelling Congress MLA Kuldeep Bishnoi would vote for. The leader, who did not show up when the other Congress MLAs were flocked to a resort in the run up to the polls, had also been maintaining his distance from the party activities for a while now.
On Saturday morning, after it was declared that Congress has lost, Bishnoi tweeted a cryptic couplet.
“I have the ability to crush the hood,
Do not leave the forest because of the fear of snakes.”
This left no doubt that not only did Bishnoi vote against the Congress, he is also giving an open challenge to Bhupinder Hooda and the party high command.
Ever since Udai Bhan, a Hooda-loyalist, was made the Haryana Congress state-unit chief, there has been disquiet in the ranks of the party. While Hooda is himself the CLP leader, many have had to acquiesce posts in the organisation for those close to Hooda. Bishnoi had made his disappointment with the party clear, but in the last week, there had been attempts to placate him and get him to vote in favor of the Congress. Maken had himself reached out to Bishnoi, as had poll observers appointed for the state Bhupesh Baghel and Mallikarjun Kharge.
However, sources in Haryana Congress said that Bishnoi wanted a meeting with Rahul Gandhi, something that hasn’t happened yet.
Bishnoi had also told reporters last week that he will be voting as per his “conscience” and nothing else. This made the party high command all the more nervous. But after the voting Haryana Congress leader Deepender Hooda confidently told reporters that Bishnoi voted for Maken, and not anyone else.
However, speaking to the media after the results were announced, Haryana CM and BJP leader Manohar Lal Khattar said that he appreciates Bishnoi for voting for his conscience.
“It is welcome that he supported our candidate and voted listening to his inner conscience. He has shown faith in the principles and policies of the BJP... We welcome him,” Khattar said.
However it wasn’t just Bishnoi’s move that led to Congress’ loss, but a rejection of vote by another one of its MLAs. While it isn’t clear yet which MLA’s vote was rejected for being invalid, it is being alleged that it may have been MLA Kiran Choudhry’s vote. BJP-JJP backed independent candidate Kartikeya Sharma had complained to the EC that Choudhry and another Congress MLA B.B. Batra’s votes not be counted. However, the Returning Officer(RO) had ruled that there was no breach of privacy or secrecy in the case. Yet, one of the votes was rejected.
In the 90-member assembly, one independent MLA abstained from voting, while one Congress vote was rejected. That left 88 votes in the assembly, and with Bishnoi not voting in the Congress’ favor, BJP’s victory became easy.
In the long run, this loss is also expected to have a bearing on the Haryana assembly polls slated for 2024, as it doesn’t reflect too well on Hooda, who failed to keep the Congress united in what a crucial moment.
Gehlot's Tact Keeps the Rajasthan Flock Together
In Rajasthan, all three of Congress’ candidates won—Pramod Tiwari, Mukul Wasnik and Randeep Singh Surjewala. This, even as the party had seen enormous pushback from its state unit members over the selection of candidates and how none of them hailed from Rajasthan. The backlash had led to the Congress moving its MLAs to a hotel in Udaipur, in order to prevent any chances of horse-trading or cross-voting. This move, which may have seemed gimmicky, did help the party get its MLAs to come together and act in a united fashion.
It was ‘jadugar’ Ashok Gehlot whose maneuvering and persuasion skills not only helped Congress keep its flock together, but also build bridges with non-Congress MLAs.
Interacting with media after his win, Tiwari credited the Congress’ victory to Gehlot. “Jadugar ka jaadu chal gaya (The magician’s magic worked). The manner in which all 3 contenders emerged victorious is due to Gehlot’s skills,” he said.
Moreover, Gehlot also played a major role in convincing a few independents to vote in the Congress’ favor—as backup, in case any of its own MLAs had a change of heart. As a result, all three of its candidates won comfortably. Surjewala got 43 votes, Wasnik got 42 and Tiwari got 41. The Congress enjoys 108 seats in the 200-member Rajasthan assembly.
BJP had supported independent candidate and media baron Subhash Chandra, but the maths did not stack in its favor.
“The problem happens when BJP tries to act over-smart by fielding more candidates than it can afford to. If it weren’t for BJP backing Subhash Chandra out of nowhere, then we would have 3 seats and BJP 1 seat and there would have been no contest needed in Rajasthan at all. We had more candidates supporting us than we even needed,” a Rajasthan Congress leader said.
The BJP has 71 MLAs in the Rajasthan assembly and it used 41 of its MLAs to ensure the victory of its candidate Ghanshyam Tiwari. But by fielding Chandra, it complicated its own situation. While Chandra had expected the support of minimum 33 candidates—30 surplus of the BJP and 3 of RLP, he got only 30: 27 from the BJP and three from the RLP. He was short by 11 votes.
Ghanshyam Tiwari got two extra votes than what was needed, which means the BJP was anxious about the possibility of cross-voting. This reflects poorly on BJP’s management, while also signalling that the Congress went out of its way to have conversations across the aisle this time.
The BJP was also left red-faced when its own MLA, Shobha Rani Kushwaha was suspended for cross-voting.
Moreover, Chandra had earlier very proudly claimed that four Congress MLAs were "secretly in touch” with him, and that he is going win the election. In response, Pilot had retorted saying it would be best if Chandra bows out of the contest. “Unfortunately, politics is not like making TV series,” Pilot had tweeted.
While the Congress’ victory reaffirmed Gehlot’s prowess and influence within the party’s rank and files, it will make it more difficult for Pilot to challenge this dominance when the question for the CMship is raised next.
One Win Each in Karnataka, Maharashtra for Congress
Of the 4 vacant seats in Karnataka, the BJP won 3, Congress won 1 while JDS scored nil.
The Congress had fielded 2 candidates, hoping that it will amass enough votes for both its nominees even though it has just 69 seats in the 224-member Karnataka assembly. While its first candidate, Jairam Ramesh, sailed through with 46 votes, its second candidate M.A. Khan won just 25.
BJP’s Nirmala Sitharaman won with 46 votes, Jaggesh with 44 and Lehar Singh with 33. In such a scenario, Khan fell significantly short.
It was due to a clear failure in coordination between former allies Congress and JDS that the BJP was able to field a candidate for the fourth seat, and resulted in both the parties losing out on an additional Rajya Sabha seat. The bickering and lack of willingness to compromise paved the way for BJP to win an extra seat. This doesn't reflect too well on the Congress and bodes poorly for any possible alliance with a regional party of any state in the future.
Imran Pratapgarhi, the Congress’ choice of candidate in Maharashtra, won.