Rajya Sabha polls: Congress shock defeat signals revolt
The political cost from the Congress’s shock defeat in the Rajya Sabha polls from Haryana will be more than just a parliamentary seat, for it signalled a revolt by key leader Kuldeep Bishnoi.
Bishnoi, who had been sulking since the high command handed over the state unit’s reins to former chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, was on Saturday removed from the Congress Working Committee by Sonia Gandhi.
The Congress also plans to seek Bishnoi’s suspension from the Assembly.
While Congress general secretary Ajay Maken’s defeat from Haryana is a huge embarrassment, particularly since he is a Rahul Gandhi confidant, Bishnoi’s almost certain exit from the party now constitutes the bigger political loss.
Bishnoi, son of three-time chief minister Bhajan Lal, led the non-Jat groups in the party. He was seen as a key player in efforts to take on the BJP by challenging its rainbow coalition of castes.
Bishnoi’s exit will mean the high command will have to rely even more on the Hoodas, father and son, whose dominance has caused a chunk of the Congress’s traditional non-Jat vote bank to turn away from the party.
In the Rajya Sabha polls, one Congress MLA’s vote was rejected because of wrong marking — which appeared deliberate — while Bishnoi cross-voted in favour of the BJP-backed Independent, media-baron Kartikeya Sharma. Maken received only 29 of the 31 Congress votes.
Kartikeya is the younger brother of Jessica Lal murder convict Manu Sharma, son of former Congress leader Venod Sharma.
Bishnoi posted a tweet on Saturday morning saying: “Fan kuchalne ka hunar aata hai mujhe/ Saanp ke khauf se jungle nahin chhoda karte (I know the art of crushing the head/ You don’t quit the forest for fear of snakes).”
In Maharashtra, the ruling coalition got three members — Sanjay Raut, Praful Patel and Imran Pratapgarhi — elected although the Shiv Sena lost the battle to wrest an additional seat from the BJP.
The Congress, which had 29 members in the Rajya Sabha, will now have 31. Although the BJP is far better placed with over 90 members in a House of 232, the Congress retains the firepower to corner the government in tandem with other Opposition parties.
While the Congress has lost vocal members like Ghulam Nabi Azad and Anand Sharma — and Kapil Sibal has retained his seat with Samajwadi support — the party has been able to get the articulate P. Chidambaram and Jairam Ramesh re-elected.
Among the newcomers, Pramod Tewari and Mukul Wasnik are veterans with long legislative experience. Rajeev Shukla has been minister of state for parliamentary affairs and is considered an effective political manager.
Randeep Surjewala’s entry into Parliament will add to the Congress’s firepower. Having been the party communications chief for years, Surjewala is not only well versed in the party’s thinking on various issues but also understands the leadership’s mind.
The experience he gathered as parliamentary affairs minister of Haryana and four-time MLA — having twice defeated the formidable Om Prakash Chautala —will stand Surjewala in good stead as he tries to make a mark at the national level.
Another new member, Ranjeet Ranjan, had created an impression of being a fearless fighter during her stint in the Lok Sabha. Pratapgarhi, a poet, too is a good speaker.
In addition, the Congress has Mallikarjun Kharge, Digvijaya Singh, Shaktisinh Gohil and Abhishek Singhvi in the Upper House.
At 12.47am on Friday night, the Election Commission announced it had directed the returning officers for the Haryana and Maharashtra Assemblies to start the counting of votes, which had been stalled following complaints from several parties.
In Maharashtra, the poll panel disagreed with the recommendation of the returning officer and directed that Shiv Sena MLA Suhas Kande’s vote be rejected and the rest counted.
The commission had received complaints from the BJP accusing Kande, Congress minister Yashomati Thakur and NCP minister Jitendra Awhad of showing their ballot papers to people outside the polling booth who were not their respective parties’ authorised agents.
The Congress, NCP and the Sena had accused BJP legislator Sudhir Mugantiwar of doing the same, and BJP-aligned Independent MLA Ravi Rana of displaying the Hanuman Chalisa while voting.
The returning officer, who was supported by the observer and the special observer, had recommended that all the complaints be dismissed. The poll panel agreed with the recommendations except in respect of Kande.
The order signed by election commissioners Rajiv Kumar and Anup Chandra Pandey said: “The video recording is clearly inconsistent with the above conclusion of the RO (returning officer) and the observer and special observer and as it can be observed that the said MLA violated the voting procedure and secrecy of the ballot paper cast by him when he exercised his right to vote.”
In Haryana, the BJP and the BJP-backed Independent candidate Kartikeya Sharma had complained to the commission saying Congress MLAs Kiran Choudhary and B.B. Batra had displayed their ballots to unauthorised people. This was found untrue and dismissed.
Additional reporting by our Delhi bureau