One thing is for sure, those who can read the papers or can afford to watch news channels now have a fair understanding of the process of the Rajya Sabha elections. After 70 years of Independence, a public awareness campaign of this scale on ‘How elections are held to the Upper House of Parliament’ is not such a bad development. It’s good for people to realise that Rajya Sabha MPs are voted in by elected state Assembly members to represent their respective states at the Delhi Durbar.
There’s a small problem though. Many among the not-so-discerning millennials may begin to believe the electoral process necessarily involves being at a holiday resort in the run-up to voting. Indeed, they may even consider the prospect of entering politics with greater interest, if this is what it takes.
Well, it takes much more. Not everyone gets the same kind of red-carpet treatment and wall-to-wall news coverage that an Ahmed Patel or Congress MLAs from Gujarat—that is, a candidate and his (presumed) electors—are getting at the moment. (In fact, never before in recent memory has the fight for one Rajya Sabha seat been turned into a star contest of the gladiatorial sort.)
Take poor Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya of the Bengal CPM: He could not even contest from his state. It was a technical knockout. His papers were not in place before the time for filing nominations ran out on him! The TMC candidate won unopposed as Bhattacharya was disqualified, as one affidavit was missing from his papers. And with him ruled out of the fray, it’s curtains for the Bengal Left in the Upper House—the first time in history they have drawn a blank. And quite an illustrious history at that.
But forget about a break at a resort or an offer from a rival party, Bhattacharya’s exit generated zero attention.
The question can be asked: If it’s about representing the state, where do political affiliations come in? Especially since it’s a conscience vote, where no binding party whip can be issued, and now even a NOTA vote has come in. But all that’s theory. In reality, competition is the lifeblood of democracy, and every elected representative is divided from his or her colleagues along political lines. How they are marshalled, grouped, monitored—they don’t teach it at IIM Ahmedabad or Bangalore, but it’s called election management. The Rajya Sabha contest in Gujarat that has left the ordinary citizen so enlightened is really a contest between two top electoral managers of two parties.
Bhattacharya, who had emerged as a candidate after the CPM decided it cannot allow its general secretary Sitaram Yechury a third term with borrowed votes from the Congress, has no glittering CV like Patel or BJP President Amit Shah to attract national media. Whether he gets elected or not is only a point of quibble within the Marxist party—Kerala MP M B Rajesh called it mismanagement by Alimuddin Street, the Bengal headquarters of CPM—and of little interest outside.
It’s ironical, though, that Patel too has become a much-headlined personage. At the centre of power till three years ago, Patel fashioned a low-key image for himself and shunned publicity. The golden rule of engagement with the then powerful political secretary to the Congress president was that you never mention him, in a positive vein or otherwise. Now, he’s become quite a household name—he may not be happy about it, but last heard, the Gujarat Congress unit, or whatever survives of it, is rather pleased. Despite the bad press they’ve got for the legislators’ absence during a terrible flood, they are getting the kind of attention they have not in a long time. When was Shaktisinh Gohil last on prime time TV?
But will that help? Beyond the election to that one seat, the Congress and the Opposition are in a shambles. If their erasure from an increasing number of state legislatures is not a self-evident fact already, nowhere will it be shown up as starkly as in the Upper House. Yechury’s term is over, Mayawati has bowed out in a huff to reclaim her Dalit politics, and Sharad Yadav’s status is iffy (he’s refusing to shift to the treasury benches, even toying with the idea of breaking the JD-U). Derek O’Brien has hardly opened his mouth since the CBI/ED net started closing in on Mamata Banerjee’s nephew and political heir, Abhishek.
The AIADMK and BJD are BJP-friendly parties. The Samajwadi Party is so splintered one does not know who’s where—Naresh Agarwal and Ram Gopal Yadav were with Akhilesh Yadav, who in turn was talking of a grand alliance with the BSP and Congress in UP, but has since been making noises favourable to the treasury benches. Ram Gopal Yadav’s completion of 25 years as a parliamentarian saw much fanfare—the celebration at a five-star hotel saw the prime minister attending, but not party patriarch Mulayam Yadav. Enough said.
That leaves the Congress—a party of many big leaders but no clear high command. Nitish Kumar may be getting (rightly) pilloried by former ally Lalu Yadav for ‘betraying’ the people’s mandate, but he is correct in his assessment of the Opposition as a ‘reactive lot’ that has no clear idea or agenda. That more and more of them may get embroiled in court cases does not help. The CBI and ED dragnets—and now the I-T raids in Karnataka—ensure they have no room for manoeuvre. The Opposition is a parliamentary necessity, old pundits say. But for the new order, or its hard-core supporters, ‘Opposition’ means opposition to an idea of India they have quietly been nurturing for seven-eight decades, and if you don’t agree with that idea, there’s no place in the scheme of things for you.
Political Editor, The New Indian Express