New Delhi: President-elect Droupadi Murmu is set to be sworn in Monday but the voting pattern in her election — with more than 120 MLAs cross-voting for her — suggests that the non-BJP parties are likely to feel its impact in at least half-a-dozen states in the coming months.
For one, the Hemant Soren-led government in Jharkhand may be staring at a crisis soon, even though the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) supported her candidature.
About half of the opposition MLAs — from the Congress and the AIUDF — in Assam cross-voted, indicating further disintegration in the opposition camp as CM Himanta Biswa Sarma consolidates his hold on the state. The Congress also appears to be losing its grip on its legislators in Gujarat, which will go to the polls about four months later, and in Madhya Pradesh, which will go to the polls next year.
Soren government in Jharkhand stares at crisis
If one were to go by the number of cross-voters in Jharkhand, the JMM-led ruling coalition, comprising 51 MLAs, could be in trouble.
Murmu’s assured votes in Jharkhand totalled 56, including BJP’s 26 and JMM’s 30. She ended up getting 70 votes, with 14 coming from the opposition camp. The lone NCP MLA declared later that he had voted for Murmu. This means that 13 MLAs from the ruling alliance minus the JMM cross-voted.
The Congress has 18 MLAs in the 81-member Jharkhand assembly, while the RJD, the CPI(ML) and the NCP have one each.
If the BJP is able to secure the support of the 14 opposition MLAs who voted for Murmu against their party lines, in future, it would pose a big threat to the Soren government. The BJP with these 14 MLAs would then reach the tally of 40, just one short of the majority mark in the Jharkhand assembly.
CM Soren can only hope that there was cross-voting because of Murmu being a tribal candidate and that the legislators of the ruling coalition will continue to be loyal once they have elected India’s first tribal president.
The BJP may have other plans though.
Tribals constitute 26 per cent of the population in Jharkhand. The joint opposition candidate, Yashwant Sinha, who belongs to Jharkhand, managed to get just 9 votes.
Alamgir Alam, senior Jharkhand Congress leader and a cabinet minister in the government, told ThePrint that he came to know through media reports that massive cross-voting took place from the opposition camp.
“But this does not mean that there are fissures in the opposition ranks. In presidential elections, MLAs can vote against the party line as there is no whip. In our internal meetings, we have not come across any dissent,” Alam said. However, he added that the state Congress leadership will look into why cross-voting happened.
Opposition split in half in Assam
In Assam, the opposition seems to be disintegrating. The BJP-led alliance, which is in power in the state, has a total strength of 79 MLAs in the 126-member assembly (apart from 3 Bodoland People’s Front members, who support the alliance in the assembly). Meanwhile, the opposition camp, which includes the Congress (27), AIUDF (15), CPI(M) (1), and Raijor Dal (1), has 44 MLAs.
Murmu ended up getting 104 votes in the states, 25 more than the ruling coalition’s strength (including BPF votes). Sinha got 20 votes, about half of the opposition’s strength.
Senior Assam Congress leader and MP Gaurav Gogoi told ThePrint: “It is necessary to have an introspection exercise. We need to sit and discuss the matter internally.” Gogoi said the Assam Congress president had already expressed regret to Sinha Thursday.
Assam Congress president Bhupen Kumar Borah said action would be taken against the MLAs who cross-voted. “We had earlier expelled three of our MLAs, and now we have 24. Along with us, one (MLA each) from Raijor Dal and CPI(M) were there in the welcome meeting of Yashwant Sinha… according to the results there were six definite cross-votes. If we lay the blame to other parties, then also, a minimum of 4 MLAs from the Congress crossed their votes. We are now in touch with the AICC central leadership,” he said.
Borah tweeted: “I am aghast that we had 26 votes but we could cast 20 votes in your favor @YashwantSinha ji, This immoral and abject surrender of ideology has stung my conscience and I strongly feel about it. This is a let-down of political ethics.”
Assam Chief Minister Sarma Thursday indicated cross-voting from opposition MLAs with his tweet: “Droupadi Murmu polled 104 votes compared to NDA’s original strength of 79 in the 126-member Assam Assembly. 2 absent. My heartfelt gratitude to the people of Assam for reposing their faith in the NDA’s presidential candidate & wholeheartedly joining this historic moment.”
Aminul Islam, AIUDF MLA, said that although “it is possible” that one or two of the party’s MLAs may have voted in favour of Murmu, AIUDF’s “stand was clear”.
“We have a minority support base and we cannot support the BJP. All our MLAs were in support of Yashwant Sinha. Congress’ people had also voted in favour of the BJP in the Rajya Sabha elections and they always give us the blame,” he said.
Congress’ troubles in Gujarat and Goa
Signalling trouble for the Congress ahead of the elections in Gujarat, at least seven of the 63 Congress legislators voted for Murmu.
The party also has the support of lone Independent MLA Jignesh Mevani. Murmu got a total of 121 votes — 10 more than the BJP’s strength of MLAs. Sinha got 57 votes, seven less than the strength of the Congress including Mevani. The lone NCP MLA also ended up voting for Murmu.
Such cross-voting by party MLAs, four months before the assembly election, indicates dissension in the opposition party, which had given a scare to the ruling BJP in the 2017 election, reducing its tally to 99 in the 182-member assembly.
“This shows the trust people have reposed in PM Modi’s agenda of equitable development. The fact that cutting across party lines, MLAs have supported Murmuji shows the belief in her,” Yamal Vyas, BJP chief spokesperson, Gujarat, told ThePrint.
In another BJP-ruled state, Madhya Pradesh, at least a dozen MLAs cross-voted in favour of Murmu.
The assembly has a strength of 230, of which the BJP has 130 MLAs and the Congress 96. While Murmu got 146 votes, Sinha received 79. At the same time, 5 votes were considered invalid. There are three independent MLAs and one BSP MLA.
The Congress’ inability to keep its flock together in the state has come as a shocker to party leaders at a time when the opposition party was feeling confident after it snatched three mayoral posts from the BJP in this month’s civic polls.
“Droupadi Murmu ji has got more votes than the BJP votes from Madhya Pradesh. Apart from the BJP, I would like to thank all MLA colleagues from other parties who listened to their conscience and voted to make Droupadi Murmu ji the president,” said Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan in a statement.
Madhya Pradesh has the highest number of tribals in India at about 21.5 per cent of the state’s population, according to the 2011 Census, while the Scheduled Castes constitute 15.6 per cent.
In Goa, at least three MLAs in the 40-member assembly cross-voted for the NDA’s candidate. The BJP has 20 legislators and the support of two more from the regional Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) and three Independents, bringing their combined strength to 25. The NDA’s candidate, however, got 28 votes.
Earlier this month, the Congress had alleged that MLAs such as Digambar Kamat and Michael Lobo were conspiring with the BJP to split the party. Both leaders had denied the charge.
Warning signals for Tejashwi Yadav in Bihar
In Bihar, where the BJP-JD(U)-led alliance is in power, Murmu got 133 votes and Sinha 106.
The ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA), comprising Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s party JD(U), BJP and former CM Jitan Ram Manjhi’s HAM(S), has 126 members, apart from enjoying the support of an Independent member.
However, one of the MLAs was unwell and did not vote and two votes were considered invalid, of which one was supposed to be of an alliance MLA. Even so, Murmu got 133 votes.
The RJD, meanwhile, has 80 MLAs and the opposition alliance led by it, which includes the Left parties, stands at 115.
“But Sinha got only 106 votes, clearly showing that opposition MLAs cross-voted in favour of Murmu ji,” said a senior BJP leader.
Devesh Kumar, member of Bihar legislative council and general secretary of the Bihar BJP, sought to tweet some advice to RJD chief Lalu Prasad’s son Tejashwi: “Tejashwi ji, if you get some time after commenting on the other party, then you should also pay attention to your home. The ground beneath you has slipped. Eight opposition MLAs have cast their vote from their conscience. In the presidential election, 135 MLAs voted in favour of NDA candidate against 127 MLAs.”
Bihar BJP president Sanjay Jaiswal said to the media: “Our (NDA’s) effective strength in the assembly was 125, as one of our MLAs could not vote. Murmu was supported by 133 members. This is evidence of cross-voting on a substantial scale.”
With inputs from Manasi Phadke in Mumbai and Angana Chakrabarti in Guwahati
(Edited by Nida Fatima Siddiqui)