Political parties in Maharashtra are engaged in hectic parleys to finalise their strategy for Friday's elections to six seats of Rajya Sabha from the state, being viewed as a platform for the ruling Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) allies and opposition BJP to test their strength.
After more than two decades, Maharashtra will witness a contest in the Rajya Sabha polls as there are seven candidates in the fray for six seats. The polling process will start at 9 am and end at 4 pm.
The MVA allies - Shiv Sena, NCP, Congress - have shifted their MLAs to different hotels and resorts in Mumbai and they will be kept there till the polling process commences.
NCP chief Sharad Pawar, Congress general secretary Mallikarjun Kharge, BJP leader and Union minister Ashwini Vaishnaw have been holding meetings with leaders of their respective parties here on Thursday and finalising the strategy for the polls.
The 288-member Legislative Assembly is the electoral college for the elections. But the total votes have come down to 285 since there is a vacancy due to the death of Shiv Sena MLA Ramesh Latke and a special court on Thursday rejecting the pleas filed by minister Nawab Malik and former minister Anil Deshmukh seeking a day's bail to vote in the elections.
State NCP president Jayant Patil said the party was upset with the court's decision.
"None of them (Malik and Deshmukh) are convicted. So by rejecting their bail plea, they have been deprived of their constitutional right to vote," he said.
Senior BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis, who was found infected with COVID-19 a few days back, tested negative on Thursday. So he can now participate in the voting process along with other members of the Assembly. He was found infected on Sunday and was under home isolation since then.
Union minister Piyush Goyal, Anil Bonde, Dhananjay Mahadik (BJP), Praful Patel (NCP), Sanjay Raut and Sanjay Pawar (Shiv Sena) and Imran Pratapgarhi (Congress) are in fray for the six seats. The contest is for the sixth seat - between BJP's Mahadik and Sena's Pawar.
Shiv Sena has 55 MLAs, NCP 53, Congress 44 , BJP 106, Bahujan Vikas Aghadi (BVA) three, Samajwadi party, AIMIM and Prahar Janshakti party two each, MNS, CPI(M), PWP, Swabhimani Party, Rashtriya Samaj Paksh, Jansurajya Shakti party, Krantikari Shetkari Party one each, and there are 13 independent legislators.
The quota for first preference votes to get an candidate elected has come down to 41. Congress and NCP have decided to transfer their second preference votes to Shiv Sena's Sanjay Pawar.
In the fight for the sixth seat, both MVA parties and BJP are banking on the 25 additional votes of smaller parties and independents. There are three ministers in the cabinet from smaller parties and independents.
The elections are being held through open ballot and state congress president Nana Patole will be the authorized agent for the Congress,m where the party legislators will have to show their vote to him before dropping it into the box.
Shiv sena secretary and close aide of chief minister Uddhav Thackeray Milind Narvekar and Rajya Sabha member Anil Desai are likely to be the authorised agents for the Shiv Sena legislators, while NCP's Lok Sabha member Sunil Tatkare and party's state unit president Jayant Patil will be the authorised agents for the MLAs of their party.
BJP leaders Ashish Shelar and Chandrashekar Bawankule are likely to be the authorised agents for the party legislators.
When asked about the illness of two BJP MLAs, party chief whip Ashish Shelar said, "We have taken special permission from the Election Commission of India (ECI) three days back to allow them to travel to Mumbai in a special ambulance. The MLAs are permitted to be accompanied by a person of their choice to cast their vote." "The ECI has a provision called tendered vote, where a legislator with some medical condition can vote with an assistant. It is not necessary for the legislator to appoint an MLA as his or her assistant," Shelar said.
This is for the first time since 1998 that Rajya Sabha elections in Maharashtra will see a contest. In the last 24 years, the vacant Rajya Sabha seats in the state were filled unopposed. In 1998, the election was held as per the secret ballot system, while this time the voters (MLAs) will have to show their vote to the party whip before dropping it into the ballot box.