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Independents ambush BJP

Ranchi/New Delhi, May 3: BJP nominee S.S. Ahluwalia’s bid for another Rajya Sabha term from Jharkhand whimpered to an embarrassing defeat today after six Independent legislators swung the game for the Opposition Congress, which pulled off a stunning victory.

Congress state president Pradeep Balmuchu won 25 votes, two more than the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha’s Sanjeev Kumar who clinched the second of the two seats up for grabs, while Ahluwalia finished third with the remaining 20 of the 68 votes polled.

The six Independents proved to be the game changer as the Congress, whose tally included the votes of five RJD MLAs, cashed in on old loyalties. Four of the six had been ministers in an earlier government the Congress had propped up.

Ahluwalia said he lost because he stuck to his values. “The Congress, on the other hand, won by indulging in horse-trading,” he said.

In Delhi, BJP sources tried to figure out why Ahluwalia had jumped into the fray when it was clear from day one that arithmetic was not on his side, though his party heads the ruling coalition in the state.

After his defeat, party leaders distanced themselves from the “doomed” exercise, claiming it was a combination of “grandstanding” (on his part), “push from his family” and “morale boost” from “sympathisers” like Lok Sabha Opposition leader Sushma Swaraj that made him take the “risk”.

Ahluwalia, who served uninterrupted as an MP from 1986 despite switching from the Congress to the BJP, had been denied a berth in the first round of the polls on March 30 that the Election Commission countermanded after Rs 2.15 crore was seized from a car linked to an Independent.

The BJP had initially backed Anshuman Mishra, an NRI businessman with dubious credentials, triggering protests from veterans like L.K. Advani, Yashwant Sinha, Murli Manohar Joshi and Shanta Kumar. But their opposition stemmed more from party chief Nitin Gadkari’s endorsement of Mishra than ire against Ahluwalia getting the short shrift.

Mishra was eventually forced to withdraw but the BJP did not put up Ahluwalia, especially since ally JMM also fielded its own nominee.

For the second round too, sources said, Gadkari was reluctant to press the BJP’s claim, contending that in the interest of coalition “ethics”, it should leave the arena open to the JMM and instead try and consolidate the alliance.

He was overruled by some Jharkhand leaders who felt the BJP should “assert” itself.

Sources said Ahluwalia was counselled not to use “extra-legislative” means to win the seat. Gadkari also told him in no uncertain terms that he had to rustle up the numbers.

But neither Ahluwalia nor his Jharkhand cheerleaders had any clue about how to hit upon a mathematical miracle.

Sources said they banked on two possibilities: weaning away the allies, including the AJSU, from the JMM and get them on board; and hope that the Congress candidate would lose for lack of support from Babulal Marandi’s JVM.

“Ahluwalia assured the BJP leaders that he was on good terms with Marandi. Marandi, in turn, seemed to have impressed on him that he would get the Congress defeated,” a source said.

Ultimately, Ahluwalia was “let down” from all sides.