A fresh look needed on Rajya Sabha elections marred by allegations and cross-voting

Rajya Sabha elections are increasingly being marked by allegations of horse trading, resort politics, cash for votes and more businessmen joining the fray ‘to serve the people’

A fresh look needed on Rajya Sabha elections marred by allegations and cross-voting

Naheed Ataulla

During the biennial elections to the Rajya Sabha on June 10, BJP herded its MLAs in Maharashtra in Taj Hotel, Mumbai. The NCP put up its MLAs in Hotel Blue Sea, Congress in Hotel West End and the Shiv Sena in Hotel Retreat. In Karnataka a JD(S) MLA voted for the Congress and in Rajasthan the BJP expelled legislator Shobha Rani Kushwaha after cross voting. Businessman and media baron Subhash Chandra, backed by the BJP, who boasted that eight Congress MLAs would vote for him, lost. Another media baron backed by BJP, Kartikeya Sharma, however, won from Haryana.

Rajya Sabha elections are increasingly marked by allegations of horse trading, resort politics, cash for votes and more businessmen joining the fray ‘to serve the people’. Open ballot, second and third preference votes etc. also make it a more complicated election with the Returning Officer declaring votes invalid in Haryana eight years ago because of the use of a different pen. Despite CCTV footage, disputes in Maharashtra delayed results by over five hours. The process needs a second look. Naheed Ataulla from Bengaluru reports on the trend in Karnataka.

A CD had surfaced in Karnataka 2014, in which former chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy was purportedly heard saying that JD(S) MLAs were demanding one crore rupees each to vote for party nominees to the Legislative Council. The conversation allegedly took place between Kumaraswamy and supporters of an aspirant Vijugoud Patil. It seemed to confirm swirling suspicion that even for elections to the upper house of the legislature, money was an important consideration.

“Goddess Lakshmi is superior to goddess Saraswati for getting elected to the Council of States or the Legislative Council,” concedes a political leader.

This has been further strengthened by the steady rise of candidates from business and industry eager to enter public life and serve the people. In Karnataka, liquor barons, business magnates, realtors and mining czars have been contesting as Independents backed by political parties for seats for which no party has the numbers to elect them on their own. Vijay Mallya in 2002, the race horse breeder MAM Ramaswamy in 2004, businessman and now Union Minister Rajeev Chandrasekhar from 2006 onwards, miner Anil Lad from Ballari in 2010, realtor D Kupendra Reddy in 2014 are just some of them.

The year 2020 was an exception, when no money bag evinced interest and all the three parties--- BJP, Congress and the JD(S)---got their nominees elected unopposed. This was the year when former Prime Minister H D Deve Gowda and opposition leader in the Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun M Kharge, who had lost the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, won.

This year the contest for the fourth seat was between an educationist and KPCC general secretary Mansoor Ali Khan from the Congress, JD(S) backed realtor Kupendra Reddy and BJP’s former MLC Lahar Singh Siroya, who is believed to be close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah. The BJP candidate got elected with more second preference votes.

Though all parties issue a whip to its MLAs, cross voting has been rampant. In the recent polls too, two JD(S) MLAs defied the whip. Kolar MLA K Srinivasa Gowda voted for the Congress and announced outside that he did so because “he loved the party’’. Another JD(S) MLA representing Gubbi S R Srinivas dropped a blank ballot into the ballot box. Both of them showed the ballot paper to the party’s appointed official agent as per the Supreme court order in early 2000, which amended the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961 and under section 39 (AA) and made it an open election.

Defying the whip outside the House does not attract provisions of the anti-defection Act and the only action parties can take is to suspend the MLAs, explains former MP and legal expert V.S. Ugrappa. The Rajya Sabha election, he points out, is the only election that has open ballot voting as all other elections from the gram panchayats to the Presidential elections are by secret voting.

(This was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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