The Rajya Sabha election is in the news—for the wrong reasons

Exchanging Insults

  • CM Siddaramaiah has been accused of being the architect behind the fracas by former CM B.S. Yediyurappa
  • The accusation has been ­answered by Siddaramaiah with reference to BJP’s 2010 ploy of 'Operation Kamala'


This year’s Bollywood hit Airlift had a conscientious businessman as the protagonist. The real-life events playing out in Karnataka ahead of Rajya Sabha elections this weekend also featured an ‘airlift’, as it’s being called here, and the other key element, businessmen.

Elections to the Rajya Sabha—usually a quiet affair—have been roiled this time with sting operations by two TV channels suggesting that legislators were negotiating for cash or were being lured with funding promises. Then came the political ‘airlift’ of around 14 independent or small-party legislators to Mumbai which, claimed H.D. Deve Gowda’s Janata Dal (Secular), was the handiwork of Congress to keep numbers intact ahead of the poll. His party—having brushed aside the sting on some of its own legislators—is calling itself a victim and has asked the Election Commission to suspend the election in Karnataka.

“If it isn’t horse-trading what is it? Donkey-trading?” was Deve Gowda’s response to Congress’s claim that it wasn’t luring any legislators. The Congress was trying to destroy his party and hasn’t learned ­anything from Uttarakhand, he said. To its discomfort, however, the JD(S) too can’t escape accusations, given that it has often backed rich businessmen. In 2004, it had nominated the late M.A.M. Ramaswamy of Chettinad Group as its party candidate. It supported Vijay Mallya in his two terms (2002-08 and 2010-16) although he stood as an independent. Mallya also got surplus votes from the BJP (when it was in power in Karnataka) but the party has been trying to forget that episode since he fled. Karnataka’s other prominent industrialist-MP is Rajeev Chandrasekhar who, in his first RS election in 2006, ­defeated writer U.R. Ananthamurthy, both being independents.

This time, the JD(S) has nominated B.M. Farook, a businessman from Mangalore, the richest of the five in the fray with assets of about Rs 687 crore. It helps that he’s a local and the only Muslim candidate. Spokesperson Ramesh Babu says the party originally approa­ched Sudha Murty but “she declined politely”. All would be well, but Farook’s brot­her Mohiuddin Bava is a Congress MLA, something which has riled CM Siddaramaiah. “We are the wronged party. We have the support, we are contesting three sea­ts as a result. Some other parties have been trying to put up money­bags and trying to vitiate the atmosphere. They are not succeeding and they are saying countermand the election,” says Prof M.V. Rajeev Gowda, a Congress spokesman and a Rajya Sabha member himself. Meanwhile, the Cong­ress is arguing that delaying the election would set an bad precedent and allow allegations to be made without evidence.

The Congress has enough numbers to comfortably return two nominees to the Rajya Sabha—in this case party seniors ­Oscar Fernandes and Jairam Ramesh—but it lacks enough votes for its third candidate K.C. Ramamurthy, a former IPS officer whose family runs an educational institution and who’s a crorepati himself. Karnataka has 16 independent or small party legislators and the Congress’s contention is that many of them are associate members so it is banking on those votes. But that won’t suffice. For that matter, neither does the JD(S), with 40 MLAs, have enough votes for its nominee to get elected. Besides, there are a few disgruntled MLAs in the party—something it has admitted to in the past. That’s what has made this a close fight against the Congress for it.

Political observers, however, feel none of this is new. “This time it just so happened, given the 24x7 media presence, that it has become more visible,” says political commentator Sandeep Shastri. However, legislators being ferried to safety in an RS elec­tion is a novelty for him. It’s because independents have become important. “When Mallya got elected, you suddenly had a situation where floating votes got consolidated,” says Shastri. “The very ­purpose of the Rajya Sabha is being­ defe­ated.” And with the requirement of state ­residency for nominees gone, even “the small mask of efficacy was also given up”.

To be sure, there’s been some opposition to that practice from local outfits as BJP experienced in Karnataka. It has replaced Venkaiah Naidu—who’s been elected to the Upper House from the state for 18 years though he is from neighbouring Andhra Pradesh—with Nirmala Sitharaman. ­Except she, too, isn’t from Karnataka. “The original intention of Rajya Sabha and what is going on is completely different. Actually, we have to completely reform the whole thing,” says Prof Trilochan Sastry of the Association for Democratic Reforms, an NGO that tracks elections. “India has to move closer to direct elections.” he says.

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