The stage is set in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan for Rajya Sabha elections on three seats on Friday (June 19) respectively, with the Congress and opposition BJP keeping their legislators in different hotels after accusing each other of poaching MLAs.
Both the parties in Madhya Pradesh have fielded two candidates each for the three seats of the Upper House of Parliament.
Four candidates (two from Congress and as many from BJP) have filed nomination papers in Rajasthan.
The elections will be held for a total of 18 seats from seven Indian states. Apart from Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat will hold elections on the same day for four seats each, Jharkhand two, and Mizoram and Meghalaya for one seat each.
On the eve of the elections, legislators of the ruling BJP and the opposition Congress in Madhya Pradesh held meetings to finalise their strategies for the polls.
The BJP has also summoned its legislators to Bhopal. State in-charge Vinay Sahasrabuddhe, Baijayant Panda, and Union Minister Prakash Javadekar have already arrived in the city.
“We are going to hold lunch meetings with legislators. Lawmakers from each revenue division in the state will hold meetings separately,” a state BJP MLA had said earlier.
He expressed confidence that both their nominees — former Union minister Jyotiraditya Scindia and Sumer Singh Solanki — will win the polls.
Scindia parted ways with the Congress in March this year and joined the BJP. After the scion of the Gwalior royal family and his camp switched sides to the BJP, the Congress-led government in the state collapsed.
The BJP has now nominated Scindia for a Rajya Sabha berth from the state. Senior Congress leader Digvijaya Singh said in March that his party could have easily sent Scindia to the Rajya Sabha (when he was in the party).
“But we could not have made him a cabinet minister. Only Modi-Shah can make (him) a cabinet minister, not us,” Singh said.
Meanwhile, a Congress MLA also said they held a meeting at the residence of state party president and former chief minister Kamal Nath to discuss their strategy for the Rajya Sabha polls on Friday (June 19).
The Congress has nominated party veteran Digvijaya Singh, who is seeking a second term in the Upper House, and Dalit leader from Gwalior’s Chambal region Phool Singh Baraiya.
In the 230-member Assembly, the BJP currently has 107 MLAs and also enjoys the support of two legislators of the Bahujan Samaj Party, one of the Samajwadi Party and two Independents, while the opposition Congress has 92 MLAs. Currently, the effective strength of the House is 206, as 24 seats are lying vacant.
The Congress has already asked 54 of its MLAs to vote for Digvijaya Singh, who needs 52 votes to re-enter the Rajya Sabha, sources said. However, a senior BJP leader claimed Digvijaya Singh’s re-entry into the Upper House would “benefit the saffron party” in the by-elections to 24 Assembly seats in the state.
“His win would give us ammunition to slam the Congress in the run up to the bypolls. We are going to tell the public how Digvijaya snatched away the chance of a Dalit (Baraiya) to reach the Upper House,” the leader said on condition of anonymity.
On March, 22 Congress MLAs resigned from their posts, following which the Kamal Nath-led state government collapsed. This necessitated by-elections for these 22 seats — most of which were dominated by Dalit community members — and two others seats which fell vacant due to the demise of their sitting legislators.
The polls, which were originally scheduled for March 26, had to be postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In Rajasthan, voting will take place from 9 am to 4 pm at Assembly building and the counting of votes will take place from 5 pm.
Apart from routine preparations, authorities have made special arrangements for sanitisation, social distancing, etc. in view of coronavirus pandemic.
“All the preparations for the Rajya Sabha elections have already been completed. The process will begin at 9 am tomorrow. Special arrangements for ensuring social distancing, santisation have also been made. All the protocols for this purpose will be followed, Returning Officer Pramil Kumar Mathur told PTI on Thursday.
He said that entry and exit of the MLAs will be from separate gates.
Entry will be allowed after thermal screening and a kit containing masks, sanitizer and other necessary items will be available for the members.
Mathur said that social distancing will be followed in seating arrangements also.
The Congress has nominated KC Venugopal and Neeraj Dangi for the polls, while the BJP has fielded Rajendra Gehlot and Onkar Singh Lakhawat.
The BJP had initially nominated Rajendra Gehlot but it later sprang a surprise by fielding Lakhawat on the last day of the nomination.
The seats were held by Ram Narain Dudi, Vijay Goel and Narayan Lal Panchariya, all from the BJP, who have completed their term.
In the house of 200, the Congress has 107 MLAs and has the support of independent MLAs and legislators of other parties like Rashtriya Lok Dal, CPI (M) and Bhartiya Tribal Party (BTP).
The ruling party has more than enough majority to win two seats and the opposition BJP, which has 72 MLAs and support of three Rashtriya Loktantrik Party MLAs, has the numbers to comfortably win one seat.
Fifty-one votes are needed for one candidate to win and the Congress is in a comfortable position to ensure the victory of both of its candidates, while BJPs only one candidate can win as per the numbers.
After 51 votes to its first candidate Rajendra Gehlot, BJP’s spare votes will go to second candidate Onkar Singh Lakhawat.
Ahead of the elections, both the Congress and the BJP had shifted their MLAs as well as those in support to different hotels. The Congress alleged that the BJP made attempts to poach its MLAs for the Rajya Sabha elections and for destablising the state government, a charge denied by the opposition party.
Congress MLAs, independents and the legislators of other parties in support of the government are staying in a hotel on Delhi highway since last week, while the BJP shifted its MLAs to a hotel on Tonk road here on Tuesday.
The Congress has cited alleged poaching attempts as the reason behind holding up the MLAs and the BJP has claimed that it will be holding training sessions for the MLAs for the Rajya Sabha elections.
Rajasthan has a total of 10 Rajya Sabha seats and six of them are currently held by the BJP, one by the Congress and three seats are going to polls.
Congress’ only Rajya Sabha MP from Rajasthan is former prime minister Manmohan Singh, who was elected unopposed in RS bypolls held last year when the seat fell vacant after the demise of BJPs MP Madan Lal Saini who was also the party’s state president.
(With inputs from agencies)