Rajasthan: Impending RS Polls Set off Alarm Bells as Gehlot Makes off With MLAs

The party has sealed its MLAs at a private hotel on the outskirts of Jaipur after speculation emerged that the BJP was attempting to lure its lawmakers away.

Jaipur: With nine days to go for Rajya Sabha polls for three seats in Rajasthan, the ruling Congress party, without directly naming the Bhartiya Janta Party, alleged that attempts were being made to destabilise the government and sealed its MLAs and the independent MLAs in its support at a private hotel on the outskirts of the capital city of Jaipur on Wednesday late evening.

Chief minister Ashok Gehlot, Randeep Singh Surjewala and Vivek Bansal reportedly remained with the MLAs at the hotel.

The chief whip in the Rajasthan assembly Mahesh Joshi has written a letter to Alok Tripathi, the director general of anti-corruption bureau stating that “dirty attempts” were being made to lure the party’s MLAs and independent MLAs supporting them, along the lines of what had occurred in Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat.

While demanding strict action against those indulging in such corrupt activities, Joshi wrote, “These attempts to destabilise a democratically elected government which is dedicated to public service, are not only directly against democratic values, but also against public aspirations.”

Rajya Sabha polling

Both the BJP and the Congress have fielded two candidates each with the BJP nominating Rajendra Gehlot and Onkar Singh Lakhawat and the Congress nominating Neeraj Dangi and K.C. Venugopal for the three vacant Rajya Sabha seats.

KC Venugopal (L) and Neeraj Dangi (R) with chief minister Ashok Gehlot after filing their nomination forms for Rajya Sabha seats on March 13, 2020. Photo: ashokgehlot51/Twitter

According to experts, the BJP’s decision to nominate two candidates has prompted speculation that the party may indulge in political chicanery. “With the number of MLAs BJP has, it can win one seat but still it has fielded two candidates. This seems to have confused the Congress,” Rajendra Bora, senior journalist and a political analyst based in Jaipur, told The Wire.

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He also added that the containment of MLAs is reflective of low confidence in Gehlot. “In situations like these, it is the independent candidates that put maximum pressure on the ruling party. Since a substantial part of Gehlot’s tenure is pending, it does not look like that the Congress MLAs would want to reveal their disloyalty. In fact, Congress writing a letter and sealing its MLAs appears to be more of a panic reaction.”

Election to the Rajya Sabha takes place through proportional representation with the single transferable vote (STV) system where MLAs vote for the vacant seats, in a mathematically calculated manner.

Each MLA’s vote is counted only once, that is, MLAs don’t get to vote for each seat. This is done to restrict the ruling party from winning all the seats.

In the case of Rajasthan, the state has an assembly of 200 MLAs and there are three seats from Rajasthan vacant in the Rajya Sabha.

To calculate how many votes a particular candidate requires to win a seat, the formula is quite simple. The total number of MLAs (200 in this instance) is multiplied by 100. The resultant number is then divided by the number of vacancies plus one (3 +1 = 4). This gives us 5,000. This total number plus 1, totalling to 5,001 gives us the total votes a candidate needs to win the Rajya Sabha seat.

Each MLA has 100 votes, therefore, a candidate in this poll would need the votes of 51 MLAs to win.

The Congress party in Rajasthan has a total of 107 MLAs and the additional support of 13 independent MLAs. An MLA from the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) party, Subhash Garg, is a minister in Gehlot’s cabinet. This gives the party a total of 121 MLAs. As per this number, the party is in a position to easily grab seats for both the candidates it has fielded (51+51 =102 MLAs).

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However, the BJP’s choice of fielding two candidates for these polls has led to alarm amongst the Congress party members. The BJP has 72 MLAs, which means that it can easily win one Rajya Sabha seat, which requires votes from 51 MLAs. With that, it would still have votes from its 21 MLAs remaining. Since the party has fielded two candidates, it would appear that it is going to push for a second seat as well.

To win the second seat, the BJP requires support from an additional 30 MLAs (51 – 21 =30). Outside the Congress and its coalition partner, the Rajasthan assembly has 20 MLAs – from the Bharatiya Tribal Party (2), the Communist Party of India Marxist (2), the Rashtriya Loktantrik Party (3), and the independent MLAs (13) – that the BJP can hope to secure. However, even after this, the party would fall short by 10 MLAs for which it would likely need to approach MLAs with the Congress party.

During the last two years of its tenure, the Rajasthan Congress has been in the news with its MLAs, ministers and its deputy chief minister speaking out against their own government. With such an impression, keeping a constant watch over its MLAs appeared to be the best way for the party to prevent BJP from attempting to lure its lawmakers away.

Who weren’t at the hotel?

Apart from CPI(M) and BTP MLAs, a few Congress ministers also did not make it to the hotel, including the Minister of Food and Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs Ramesh Chand Meena and Minister of Tourism Vishvendra Singh.

Both the lawmakers are known to have courted controversy after making statements critical of their own government.

Meena had spoken out extensively against the Rajasthan unit of the Congress after the party failed to secure even a single seat in the Lok Sabha polls in 2019.

Singh, on the other hand, recently claimed that a government hospital in Rajasthan’s Bharatpur had denied treatment to a Muslim pregnant woman due to her religious identity which generated outrage against the Gehlot government.

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The Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment Bhawarlal Meghwal was not present at the hotel owing to an illness and BSP MLA Wajid Ali, who later defected to the Congress was absent as he was not in the country.

Rajasthan deputy chief minister Sachin Pilot (left) and chief minister Ashok Gehlot. Credit: PTI

Deputy chief minister Sachin Pilot on Thursday also spoke to the media and dismissed rumours concerning a repeat of the Jyotiraditya Scindia fiasco in Rajasthan. “The Congress Party has an absolute majority in the Rajya Sabha elections, independent MLAs are also supporting us. No matter how much people try, we will get more votes than expected in the Rajya Sabha election and both our candidates will go to Rajya Sabha,” Pilot said.

BJP says allegations are ‘false’

Rajasthan BJP president Satish Poonia termed the Congress’s allegations of luring its MLAs as “false” and said that the Gehlot government has sealed the border not to contain the spread of COVID-19 but to keep an eye on the movement of opposition party leaders from the bordering states of Haryana, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh. “Sealing the border is just an excuse, they want to frighten the MLAs,” he said.