Bhubaneswar, Jan. 17: As parties scramble to finalise their strategy for the February 7 Rajya Sabha polls, the uncertainty surrounding the fourth seat has raised the bogey of horse-trading.
Of the four Upper House seats falling vacant in the state, the Naveen Patnaik-led BJD with 108 MLAs in the 147-strong state Assembly is almost certain to bag three as a candidate requires 30 first preference votes for an outright victory.
However, neither the BJD nor the Congress, the main Opposition party, appears to be in a position to win the fourth seat on its own strength.
While the Congress with 27 MLAs would be three short of the required number, the ruling party will have only 18 first preference votes left after the fate of first three seats is decided.
The BJP with its tally of six MLAs is nowhere in the race, but its role would be crucial in the context of the fourth seat which may trigger a bout of hard bargaining which, it is feared, might lead to horse-trading.
Nothing is being ruled out given the experience of the controversial 2010 Rajya Sabha elections when some Congress and BJP legislators defied their party whips facilitating the victory of the third BJD candidate for whom the ruling party did not have the required number of first preference votes.
After BJD leader Baishnab Parida pipped the Congress-sponsored Independent, Tara Ranjan Patnaik, to the post in those elections, an audio-cassette surfaced containing an alleged conversation between a then BJD minister and a middleman bargaining for the support of a Congress MLA.
On the face of it, this time the Congress appears to be in a stronger position than the BJD as far as the fourth seat is concerned. The party has 27 MLAs of its own and can count on the support of at least two Independent MLAs — Braja Pradhan and Jitu Patnaik. Another Independent legislator George Tirkey, who happens to be the state president of Samata Kranti Dal, should also favour a Congress candidate.
But sources said these calculations appear good only on paper. In reality, Congress MLA Basudev Majhi may not even turn up to vote as his health remains critical.
“He is bed-ridden. We can count on him only in theory,” said a senior Congress leader.
Sources said that with a factional war raging in the state Congress, the behaviour of the remaining party MLAs on the voting day would be hard to predict.
Recalling the 2010 Rajya Sabha elections when two party MLAs — Gregory Minz and Sibaji Majhi — had abstained from voting along with the BJP’s Bhimsen Choudhary leading to the defeat of Congress-supported Independent Tara Ranjan Patnaik, a senior party leader said that horse-trading was always a possibility in such situations.
However, refusing to be bogged down by past controversies, Pradesh Congress Committee president Jaydev Jena said the state party would abide by the decision of the central leadership on this issue.
“The AICC will take a final call on the candidate. Once the decision is taken, I will start mobilising the MLAs. The support of Independent MLAs will also be sought,” he said.
Jena’s rival and former PCC chief Niranjan Patnaik sought to steer clear of any controversies saying it was for the party president to decide the strategy for the Rajya Sabha polls.
“If we make the right moves, party candidate should win,” he averred.
Much, however, will depend on what kind of a strategy the BJP decides to follow. If the party decides to skip voting, the number of first preference votes would come down to 28, brightening Congress chances on the fourth seat.
State BJP president K.V. Singhdeo was, however, non-committal on the issue.
“here is still a lot of time to discuss such issues with the state and the national party leaders,” he quipped.