Analysis: Will BJP Field A Fourth Rajya Sabha Candidate In Maharashtra?

February 08,2024

Top leaders from all political parties are currently focused on the bi-annual elections to the Rajya Sabha. Polling is scheduled to happen on February 27 and the last day for filing nominations is February 15. These polls are being keenly watched as they will basically reveal whether the Opposition can stick together during the polling process. 56 Rajya Sabha seats will fall vacant in the first week of April and states like Maharashtra and Bihar have a large quota of six seats each in the polls this time. About a year ago when Rajya Sabha polls happened it exposed the cracks in the Opposition which ultimately led to the fall of Uddhav Thackeray government in Maharashtra in July of 2023. The big question this time is whether the BJP decides to field one candidate more beyond their quota and tries to break the Opposition votes or whether the BJP sticks to its quota of three and lets the election process go unopposed.

This time the Rajya Sabha polls are going to happen from the state Assembly quota. Which means members of various Assemblies in states will vote for candidates nominated by their parties. The election happens on ballot paper and it's a process where the voters have to show whom they have voted for to the party whip who is nominated by the political parties as their election agents. This makes it difficult for the voters to indulge in cross voting and rebel against the party, still in 2023 a certain process of making some votes invalid was used by parties to make voters (Members of the Assembly) rebel against their party.

In Maharashtra's Assembly currently there are 285 members instead of the usual 288, as two members passed away recently and one has been convicted by a court in Nagpur making his membership invalid. So to secure a seat in Rajya Sabha the candidate has to win 42 votes. This makes it clear that the BJP can clearly get three candidates elected to the Rajya Sabha, the Congress can get one candidate elected and Eknath Shinde's group as well as Ajit Pawar's NCP, with the help of BJP, can get one candidate elected to the upper house of Parliament. Now the question being hotly discussed is that since BJP has about 20 votes extra in the second preference quota, will they field another candidate and try to snatch some of the Congress votes to destabilise the Opposition parties in the state?

For the first time in many decades Sharad Pawar's NCP does not have enough quota in the Assembly to get even a single candidate elected for sure and Uddhav Thackeray's Shiv Sena also faces the same situation. For the first time in over 25 years Sharad Pawar and Uddhav Thackeray have no role to play in the Rajya Sabha polls in Maharashtra as they are nowhere near the 42-MLA mark in the Assembly. The probable names are being discussed in various circles. Insiders say the BJP might field senior leader Vinod Tawde, former Maharashtra minister Pankaja Munde and either Union Minister Narayan Rane or BJP leader Vijaya Rahatkar for the three seats as their first choice. The Congress has only one seat which they can surely get elected. There is a strong possibility that senior economist and former Governor of the RBI Raghuram Rajan will be nominated for this seat. From Eknath Shinde's Shiv Sena it is almost certain that former South Mumbai MP Milind Deora will be nominated; however, speculation is still ongoing about who will be nominated from Ajit Pawar's NCP for the lone Rajya Sabha seat that they have in their quota.

In view of the upcoming Lok Sabha polls, the BJP will have to take a call on whether to continue with some of the ministers in the Union Cabinet whose term ends in April this year. One of those ministers is Narayan Rane. The BJP has always utilised Narayan Rane in their political war against Uddhav Thackeray but now with Eknath Shinde splitting from the Shiv Sena, questions are being asked about whether Rane's utility is still important for the BJP in the coming polls. A total of nine ministers in the Union Cabinet are reaching the end of their Rajya Sabha term in April this year. Politically important Uttar Pradesh has a maximum of 10 vacancies this time while Uttarakhand, Himachal, Haryana and Chhattisgarh have only one vacancy each. In the next ten days the BJP has to decide which of these politicians will continue in the Upper House of Parliament for one more term.

Rohit Chandavarkar is a senior journalist who has worked for 31 years with various leading newspaper brands and television channels in Mumbai and Pune