Mumbai: In a nail-biting finish, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Maharashtra trumped the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) in Friday’s Rajya Sabha polls, in what was the three-party alliance’s first test of strength in the legislative assembly since the 2019 trust vote.
BJP’s Dhananjay Mahadik won the sixth Rajya Sabha seat from Maharashtra, for which the BJP was locked in a tight contest with the MVA. The MVA comprises the Shiv Sena, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Congress.
Of the six Rajya Sabha seats from Maharashtra for which voting was held Friday, the BJP had the capacity to comfortably elect candidates for two, while the Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress could elect for one each.
However, the BJP fielded three candidates, Piyush Goyal, Anil Bonde and Mahadik. The Shiv Sena fielded two candidates, Sanjay Raut and Sanjay Pawar, while the Congress fielded Imran Pratapgarhi and the NCP, Praful Patel. While Goyal, Bonde, Raut, Pratapgarhi and Patel sailed through on their own parties’ strength, there was a bitter battle for the sixth seat between BJP’s Mahadik and Shiv Sena’s Pawar.
In a major setback for the MVA, the BJP pulled through, with 41 votes for Mahadik, as compared to just 33 for Pawar. The BJP could manage this by not only keeping its MLAs together, but also managing to sway votes of independent candidates and smaller parties, on which the MVA too had been counting.
After Mahadik’s victory, Opposition leader Devendra Fadnavis tweeted, “We fought the election not to just fight, but to win.”
— Devendra Fadnavis (@Dev_Fadnavis) June 10, 2022
Meanwhile, MVA Minister and Congress leader Balasaheb Thorat told reporters that the alliance will have to study what went wrong in its calculations.
The battle, which went on till well after midnight, was a hotly-contested one, with all parties guarding their flock carefully, two MLAs turning up to vote in ambulances, and allegations of invalid votes by both sides to try and swing the game of numbers in their favour. One of Shiv Sena’s votes was also declared invalid.
The hotly-contested election
Maharashtra was seeing a Rajya Sabha election for the first time since 1998, with all Rajya Sabha polls since then having been unopposed till now.
There were seven candidates in the fray for the six seats. While the BJP could comfortably win two on the strength of its 106 MLAs, the Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress — with 55, 53 and 44 legislators, respectively — could win one each, with a few surplus votes. To win the election, a candidate needed 41 votes.
The fight was between the BJP and the Shiv Sena for the sixth seat, with MVA allies pulling their weight for the Shiv Sena candidate, with their surplus votes.
Crucial here for both the Shiv Sena and the BJP was the support of 13 Independent MLAs and 16 legislators from smaller parties. The BJP seems to have gotten the support of about 17 of the 29 independents and legislators from smaller parties to ensure victory for its third candidate.
Both the BJP and the MVA had ensured that they held on to their flock tightly and there was no cross-voting. The BJP as well as MVA parties had housed their MLAs in five-star hotels, and ensured every legislator eligible for voting could cast his or her vote.
Two ailing BJP MLAs — Mukta Tilak and Lakshman Jagtap — came to Vidhan Bhavan in ambulances and were taken inside on a stretcher and a wheelchair, respectively, to cast their votes.
As polling ended at 3.30 pm Friday, all 285 MLAs, in a house of 288, who were eligible to vote had done so. NCP’s Nawab Malik and Anil Deshmukh could not vote as they are behind bars facing money laundering probes by the Enforcement Directorate. Moreover, the Shiv Sena was one MLA short, as Ramesh Latke, legislator from Mumbai, died in May due to a cardiac arrest.
The MVA tried to get the two MLAs voting rights, but a Mumbai court Thursday rejected Malik and Deshmukh’s plea, and the Bombay High Court Friday refused to intervene.
Allegations of invalid votes
The counting of votes could not begin for hours after the voting concluded, as first the BJP approached the Election Commission, claiming that three votes of the MVA were invalid, and later the Shiv Sena did the same for two MLAs of the opposition camp.
The BJP contended that NCP’s Jitendra Awhad and Congress’ Yashomati Thakur, both ministers in the MVA government, and Shiv Sena’s Suhas Kande “displayed their ballot papers to persons other than their own party’s election agents”, according to the BJP’s letter to the Chief Election Commissioner that ThePrint has seen.
Under election rules, MLAs show their votes only to their party’s whip before dropping them in the ballot box.
The MVA also reportedly challenged the votes cast by BJP MLA Sudhir Mungantiwar and independent MLA Ravi Rana, aligned with the BJP. The MVA, in its complaint, said Mungantiwar violated poll conditions by displaying his vote openly to people other than his party’s polling agents, while Rana displayed a pocket book of the Hanuman Chalisa openly, allegedly trying to influence votes.
MVA leaders alleged that the BJP was deliberately delaying the process of counting, and trying to invalidate the MVA’s votes because it knew that the poll was not in its favour.
Speaking to reporters, Jayant Patil, NCP Maharashtra President and MVA minister, said, “I don’t know why there should be such a delay in counting of votes as the voting had wrapped up before 4 pm. It is not right to wait for so long once the votes have gone into the ballot box.”
“When their (the BJP’s) hopes are dashed in Maharashtra, it has become their habit of going to Delhi to get things going in their favour,” he added.
Around midnight Friday, the EC ruled that Kande’s vote was invalid, while all other votes were valid.
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)