Rajya Sabha polls: Congress woes mount, BJP makes a point

The outcome of last Friday’s poll to the Rajya Sabha once again spotlighted the loosening grip of the Gandhis on the party members. The ruling BJP is sitting pretty, despite the hitherto hoity-toity Congress leadership bending backwards to enlist Opposition support for fielding a common nominee against the NDA’s presidential pick.

FPJ EditorialUpdated: Monday, June 13, 2022, 09:21 AM IST
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Rajya Sabha polls: Congress woes mount, BJP makes a point | Photo: ANI

The Congress troubles continue to mount. The outcome of last Friday’s poll to the Rajya Sabha once again spotlighted the loosening grip of the Gandhis on the party members. Nowhere was that more clear than in the neighbouring Haryana where ten Janpaths’ handpicked candidate Ajay Maken had to bite the dust due to a frontal challenge to the Gandhis by a renegade party legislator. Kuldeep Bishnoi, the Congress MLA, and son of the late Chief Minister Bhajan Lal, openly defied the party whip to register his protest against being bypassed for heading the Haryana Congress in favour of former Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda. Bishnoi exacted his revenge, ensuring the defeat of Maken. The beneficiary was the ruling BJP-JJP combine-backed Independent Kartikey Sharma, a media magnate, who won by a whisker of a lone vote after one Congress vote was nullified and Bishnoi voted against the party. Maybe the Gandhis had anticipated trouble in Haryana, even though with 31 MLAs, ordinarily, the victory of their nominee was certain. But these are not normal times for the Congress. It is currently in the doldrums with the fading charisma of the Gandhis. They had to make a choice between two loyalists, Maken and Randeep Singh Surjewala for the safest seat. They fielded Surjewala from Rajasthan where the party was assured of at least two seats, and a third one if Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot mustered all the usual resources to corral independents and members of the other smaller parties. In the event, he did precisely that, winning all three seats while one seat went to the BJP as per its numbers in the House. A lone rebel BJP MLA who voted for the Congress was suspended and is likely to be expelled soon.

However, the most important battle took place in Maharashtra. Here, the ruling Maha Vikas Aghadi was embarrassed when the BJP won three seats, one above its actual strength. Sharing three seats each, with the BJP-supported third candidate Dhananjay Mahadik pipping the Shiv Sena’s Sanjay Pawar was a personal victory for the leader of the Opposition Devendra Fadnavis. The former chief minister has worked tirelessly for pulling the rug from under the feet of Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray ever since the latter deserted the saffron alliance to tie up with the Congress and NCP for power-sharing. However, it was unlikely that the blow to the Sena would in any way impart a sense of moderation and sobriety to the party’s loudmouths. Nothing in life, less so in politics, is permanent. Those with wide chinks in their armour need to be modest lest their bluff is called out sooner than later. Indeed, if someone like Sharad Pawar commends Fadnavis for his ‘election management’, one has to concede that the blow to the MVA was morale-shattering. Meanwhile, Pawar has to be a brave man to soldier on without showing any bitterness despite the fact that two of his senior colleagues, Anil Deshmukh and Nawab Malik, are cooling their heels in jail. Courts rejected the plea of the two NCP legislators to vote in the RS poll. Notably, Pawar’s confidant Praful Patel was back in the Rajya Sabha as was the Sena’s spokesperson Sanjay Raut. The Congress got one Imran Pratapgarhi from UP into the Rajya Sabha from Maharashtra, apparently Priyanka Gandhi’s gambit in a bid to woo back the large Muslim vote for the Congress.

At the end of the biennial RS poll, which witnessed some nail-biting contests with the counting extending well into the wee hours of the morning last Saturday, the composition of the House of Elders --- some may say some elders, these! --- the next crucial test will be the presidential poll. The ruling BJP is sitting pretty, despite the hitherto hoity-toity Congress leadership bending backwards to enlist Opposition support for fielding a common nominee against the NDA’s presidential pick. It is highly unlikely that the Opposition will be able to forge a united front. Besides, given the composition of the electoral college, with certain regional parties highly likely to vote with the NDA, there is little chance of the Opposition administering a blow to the Modi Government. That the JD(S) and the Congress could not reach an understanding in Friday’s RS poll, thus facilitating the win of a third NDA candidate from Karnataka, spotlights the growing irrelevance of the Gandhis. They simply are no longer equipped to control the political process.

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