Mumbai: During the Vidhan Parishad (legislative council) elections held in Maharashtra in June, seven Congress MLAs cross-voted according to sources in the party, leading to its failure in getting one of its nominated candidates, Chandrakant Handore, a Dalit face, elected to the council.
The election — in which the BJP had managed to get all its five nominees elected — was an indication of the growing disintegration within the former Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government in Maharashtra, an alliance of the Congress, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Shiv Sena. The MVA government toppled last month after a section of Sena MLAs led by now Maharashtra chief minister Eknath Shinde rebelled against the party leadership and sided with the BJP.
Now, sources within the Congress have claimed that the party high command has identified the cross-voters.
Congress national spokesperson Mohan Prakash, who confirmed investigating the episode last month, told ThePrint that he had submitted his report and it was now up to the party to decide what action to take. He did not, however, divulge any names.
Senior state Congress leaders, meanwhile, believe that any immediate action against the defaulters is unlikely.
“The leadership will wait till 2024 (parliamentary and assembly elections) and see that this won’t be repeated again. The MLAs (who cross-voted) won’t be given posts or responsibilities within the party and will simply remain MLAs,” a highly placed source in the Maharashtra Congress told ThePrint.
A second senior Congress leader said that immediate action right now may not bode well for the party, given the fluid political situation in the state.
“The high command is really upset. But Congress really is not in a position to take any action at the moment given its numbers and the situation in the state,” he said.
According to the first party leader, the Congress fears that any immediate action will impact its numbers in the assembly.
He added that there was a lot of resentment among party leaders against the central leadership, and the Congress feared that any disciplinary action may push away fence sitters, instead of strengthening the party.
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How did party ‘identify’ the cross-voters
Elections for 10 legislative council seats in Maharashtra were held in June. While the MVA had fielded six candidates — two each by alliance partners Shiv Sena, Congress and NCP — the BJP nominated five.
While the Shiv Sena’s Sachin Ahir and Amshya Padvi and the NCP’s Eknath Khadse and Ramraje Nimbalkar had managed to win the seats for which they had been nominated, the Congress’ Handore had failed to get the required number of votes while Bhai Jagtap managed to win only in the second preference.
The BJP on the other had got all its five candidates — Pravin Darekar, Ram Shinde, Shrikant Bharatiya, Uma Khapre and Prasad Lad — elected.
“It was clear that seven people cross voted, since Handore was supposed to get 29 votes, while he got only 22 votes in the first preference,” the second Congress leader quoted above said. “Bhai Jagtap was the second preference, who was allotted 15 votes, but he got 20 votes during first preference.”
It was after this, said sources, that an observer was sent from Delhi to investigate the matter. A one-man committee of Congress general secretary Mohan Prakash was formed, and he spent four-five days in Mumbai in July and spoke to every MLA and party leader to draw up his report, which was then sent to the party high command, they added.
“It was not just an inquiry. I had to read and understand the political atmosphere there and tell the party about it. And one of the parts was about cross-voting. It wasn’t only about cross-voting,” Prakash told ThePrint.
He added: “At times, I used to sit till 9.30 pm with them (party functionaries, including working presidents, corporators). Took down notes from senior leaders. Everything is written down and the report is submitted.”
Is Congress next target?
After the Shinde faction of the Shiv Sena broke away from the party and formed government with the BJP, many in the Congress fear that the BJP is trying to tap fence-sitters within the Congress.
There has been speculation that senior Congress leader Ashok Chavan, and a few others, are expected to join the BJP. However, Ashok Chavan has refuted the rumours and said that he was not going anywhere.
ThePrint also reached Chavan on phone, but the calls and text messages went unanswered.
However, Congress leaders ThePrint spoke to on this said that while it was unlikely that Chavan would jump ship, they still did not completely rule out a possible switch by some Congress MLAs.
“BJP is trying. Their purpose is to weaken opposition parties by using the Enforcement Directorate (ED), horse trading, and other tactics. This happened with the Shinde group,” the second Congress leader claimed.
Echoing him, the third leader added, “Although I don’t think Ashok Chavan will go anywhere, but same was said about Shinde and we know what happened. It also depends upon the availability of ministerial positions.”
He also claimed that about 30 Congress people are being tapped by the BJP.
After the cross-voting, even the high command has taken note of the rumour, added the second leader.
“I don’t think anyone will go, as most of them are senior leaders so they won’t do anything like this, but cross-voting did happen, so there is a fear. It gives a message that something is wrong. However, the high command was very upset and even the senior leaders were very angry. That’s why an observer was publicly appointed,” he added.
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)
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