High-stakes Rajya Sabha elections from Karnataka: Independent MLAs in high demand

The polling for four Rajya Sabha seats, slated for 27 February, were necessitated as the tenure of four members concludes on 2 April.

ByMahesh M Goudar

Published Feb 26, 2024 | 9:00 AMUpdatedFeb 26, 2024 | 9:00 AM

Karnataka BJP JD(S) NDA alliance Rajya Sabha Polls Congress

With Rajya Sabha elections a day away, political parties — including the ruling Congress party — are busy chalking out strategies to ensure the victory of their respective candidates in Karnataka.

In a state where there are enough votes only to elect four MPs, the BJP-JDS combine has fielded a fifth, turning it into an election of preferential voting. The move has taken Karnataka’s politics back to the herding of MLAs in resorts and allegations of horse-trading.

The polling for four seats in the Rajya Sabha is slated to take place on 27 February. The elections were necessitated because the tenure of four Rajya Sabha members is concluding on 2 April.

The BJP-JD(S) alliance has sprung a surprise by fielding a fifth candidate — businessman and former Rajya Sabha member Kupendra Reddy — for the Rajya Sabha polls.

The stage is now set for a high-stakes battle as each candidate vies for the crucial support of 45 votes needed to emerge victorious.

According to the Karnataka State Legislature: “A candidate has to gross 45 votes in order to emerge victorious. As there are five candidates in the fray, the candidates will be elected on preferential votes.”

MLAs will exercise their franchise in the biennial elections. In the 16th Karnataka Legislative Assembly, the Congress has 135 members, the BJP has 66, the JD(S) has 19, the Kalyana Rajya Pragathi Paksha and the Sarvodaya Karnataka Paksha have one each, and two are independent.

While all the major political parties are trying to consolidate their votes, the two independent MLAs and the MLAs of the other two political parties are in high demand as they are being approached for support.

On the other hand, BJP MLAs ST Somashekhar and Shivaram Hebbar have reportedly distanced themselves from the party’s activities and have often been seen with leaders of the ruling party.

This has led to questions about them extending their support to their own party in the biennial elections.

Also Read: How the numbers stack up for four Rajya Sabha seats from Karnataka

Congress confident of winning

Despite the demise of their MLA from Shorapur Raja Venkatappa Naik on Sunday, Congress is confident of winning three out of the four seats.

In the latest development pertaining to the Rajya Sabha polls, Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) chief and Deputy Chief Minister DK Shivakumar has instructed all the MLAs of the party to reside at a designated hotel till the polling kicks off on 27 February.

Despite the Congress having sufficient numbers, he is moulding strategies to ensure the victory of all three of the party’s candidates in the Rajya Sabha polls.

The Congress has fielded two of its incumbent Rajya Sabha members — Syed Naseer Hussain and GC Chandrashekar — while the third nominee is AICC treasurer Ajay Maken, who hails from Delhi.

The Congress seems to be walking a tightrope as the party, following Naik’s demise, has 134 MLAs now— exactly one less than the number of votes needed for the victory of all three candidates in the election. The grand old party cannot afford to lose even a single vote and has to mobilise one more.

The party is also said to have been in touch with all the independent and smaller-party MLAs. The party has already claimed that three of the four are extending their support to the Congress in the Rajya Sabha polls.

Shivakumar told reporters on Friday, 23 February: “My house is in order. We have 138 official numbers with the party. The party has 135 MLAs, and three associate members are also there. We have also approached one more.”

He added: “We are holding a Congress Legislature Party (CLP) meeting at a private hotel on Friday. All the members will be staying in the same hotel after the chief minister’s reply on the budget on Monday. We will come together to vote. The BJP and the JD(S) are daydreaming and destabilising the vote margin.”

On condition of anonymity, a senior Congress leader told South First: “The party is confident of winning the polls as we have sufficient numbers. We have also approached independent MLAs seeking support.”

He added: “The party is also in touch with the other party MLAs. In the CLP meeting, the deputy chief minister is expected to give a detailed briefing to all the MLAs about the strategy and voting.”

Related: Congress announces nominees for Rajya Sabha polls from Telangana, Karnataka

BJP divides MLAs; JD(S) confident

In a bid to ensure the victory of the NDA’s candidates in the Rajya Sabha polls, the BJP central leadership has divided 66 MLAs into three groups, appointing a head for each group.

The BJP’s Karnataka unit organised a Legislature Party meeting on the Rajya Sabha polls at a private hotel on Thursday evening. The meeting was chaired under the headship of the BJP’s Karnataka Lok Sabha election in-charge and MP Radha Mohan Das Agarwal.

In the meeting, the party’s central leadership not only discussed strategy but also educated the leaders about exercising their franchise without any fault and marking preferential votes correctly during the polling.

The NDA has fielded former MLA Narayan K Bandage (BJP) and former Rajya Sabha member Kupendra Reddy of the JD(S).

On condition of anonymity, a senior BJP MLA told South First: “The NDA is five votes short of giving a tight fight to the ruling party in the state. We are confident of winning both the seats as the high command has chalked out a strategy.”

He added: “The party is also in touch with the independent MLAs and other party MLAs. The high command has urged the MLAs to prevent the casting of wrong votes as each vote matters in this election.”

The BJP leader also said: “MLAs ST Somashekhar and Shivaram Hebbar will remain with the party and support the NDA candidates in the polls. That they have been rallying behind the Congress for the past few months are only rumours.”

On dividing MLAs into three groups, he said: “The voting process in the Rajya Sabha polls is different from the general elections. Each MLA has to cast preferential votes.

He added: “The high command has educated MLAs about the process of voting for the Rajya Sabha polls. Three groups have been formed and a leader has also been appointed for each group. The leaders must ensure that their group members are exercising their votes as per the rules. There is no other strategy behind forming three groups.”

JD(S) leader Bandeppa Kashempur said: “We are aware of the numbers, considering the alliance with the BJP. However, the party leaders are making efforts to mobilise the required votes through its own strategy. We are in touch with the independent MLAs as well.”

Related: Election Commission announces polls for 56 Rajya Sabha seats on 27 Feb

4 MLAs in high demand    

Four MLAs — including two independent legislators — are in high demand as all three major political parties have reportedly approached them.

The Kalyana Rajya Pragathi Paksha’s Gangavathi MLA Janardhan Reddy, the Sarvodaya Karnataka Paksha’s Melukote MLA Darshan Puttanaiah, and the independents — Harapanahalli MLA Latha Mallikarjun, who is the daughter of late former DyCM MP Prakash, and Gouribidanur MLA K Puttaswamy Gowda — are the four legislators.

According to the Congress, MLAs Darshan Puttanaiah, Latha Mallikarjun, and K Puttaswamy Gowda have already extended their support to it. “The party is in pursuit of another MLA as well,” it has said.

MLA Darshan Puttanaiah told South First: “None of the parties have approached me seeking support for the Rajya Sabha elections. I believe that they (the NDA) won’t even approach me, considering my association with the ruling party.”

Even Latha Mallikarjun denied being contacted by any political party.

However, it may be recalled that Latha met KPCC chief Shivakumar after her victory as an independent candidate from the Harapanahalli constituency in May lat year, and then Chief Minister Siddaramaiah announced her support to the ruling party.