The ruling BJP-JJP coalition in Haryana made full use of the Congress’s infighting in the state to gain advantage during the Friday Rajya Sabha polls, leading to a situation where the Congress candidate Ajay Maken could not sail through despite the party having the requisite numbers.
In a nail-biting election, whose outcome was known early Saturday, media baron Kartikeya Sharma emerged victorious as dissident Congress MLA Kuldeep Bishnoi did not vote for Maken, while another MLA Kiran Choudhry allegedly cast a “wrong vote”.
In Haryana’s 90-member House, the BJP has 40 MLAs, the Congress 31, and the JJP 10. Apart from them, there are seven Independent MLAs and one legislator each from the Indian National Lok Dal and the Haryana Lokhit Party.
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The state was bound for the Rajya Sabha polls for 2 seats. The BJP was confident about its nominee Krishan Panwar’s victory. The Congress was also hoping that Maken will clinch the Upper House berth. However, the competition became tougher when media baron Kartikeya Sharma, the son of former Union minister and expelled Congress leader Venod Sharma, joined the fray as an Independent candidate.
Here is a timeline of what happened in Haryana politics since Sharma entered the Rajya Sabha fray:
On May 31, Dushyant Chautala-led JJP with its 10 MLAs backed Sharma, which forced the faction-ridden Congress to sir into action. The Congress subsequently moved its MLAs to Raipur in the party-ruled Chhattisgarh on June 2 to keep its flock together. However, only 28 out of 31 MLAs reached the Raipur resort. Bishnoi and Choudhry did not join them.
In the Raipur resort, the Haryana Congress had its hands full as it organised a “training session” for its legislators to prepare them for the June 10 polling day. They remained at the resort till June 9. The BJP, on the other hand, upped the ante during this period.
On June 3, Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar announced that the BJP will support Sharma’s candidature. Subsequently, at least six of the total seven Independent MLAs announced their backing for Sharma.
On June 5, the Haryana Lokhit Party’s Gopal Kanda also announced his support for Sharma. On June 9, the Indian National Lok Dal’s Abhay Chautala also announced that he would support him.
“There is a tradition in politics that opponents should be stopped. Thus, we would extend our support to Independent candidate Kartikeya Sharma,” state BJP president Om Prakash Dhankar said.
Bishnoi, who was upset with the Congress leadership for not appointing him as the state Congress president, was not going to vote for the party’s nominee, which further helped the ruling coalition’s cause.
On the polling day, June 10, Independent MLA Balraj Kundu, who has been vocal against the BJP, JJP and the Congress, abstained from voting, leaving a total of 89 MLAs. The JJP’s Digvijay Chautala, the party’s election agent, was the first to raise an objection in the polling hall over the votes of two Congress MLAs, BB Batra and Kiran Choudhry. He alleged that they committed a breach of their ballot’s secrecy. Sharma and Panwar too joined him. Their objections were rejected by the Returning Officer but the matter was forwarded to the Election Commission.
After midnight, the counting began and one Congress vote, reportedly cast by Kiran Choudhury, was rejected due to “wrong marking of ballot paper”. Only 88 votes were counted in which the ruling camp’s nominees had an edge due to adequate numbers of their first and second preference votes. While Panwar won smoothly, Sharma also eventually squeezed through. The Congress’s candidate Maken lost by a wafer-thin margin.
The BJP-JJP had taken their MLAs to the Oberoi-Sukhvilas resort on the outskirts of Chandigarh for a day’s training session on June 9. “Congress had trained its MLAs for a week before this election, but the BJP’s one-day training had overshadowed their training. They (Congress) failed, and we passed,” Khattar said.
“Kuldeep Bishnoi cast an open vote. He heard his inner soul’s voice. He must have done this only after being impressed by the policies of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government. Bishnoi has heard the voice of his inner soul to connect with the emotions of the nation. He voted without thinking what action his party would take against him, but he heard his antar-aatma and cast his vote. We welcome him,” Khattar said in what clearly sounded like a welcome to Bishnoi to the saffron party.