The election of BJP President Amit Shah and party leader Smriti Irani to the Lok Sabha has necessitated by-polls to the Rajya Sabha seats in Gujarat which were earlier occupied by these two leaders. There are 11 Rajya Sabha seats in the state of Gujarat, of which five belong to the BJP, four belong to the Congress and two seats are vacant as already stated. The Election Commission has announced by-polls to these two seats along with the vacant Rajya Sabha seats in Bihar and Odisha. The by-polls would be held on July 5.
As per the provisions of the Representation of People’s Act, 1951, vacancies to the vacant seats in the Upper House of the Parliament “will be considered as separate vacancies and separate notifications are issued and a separate poll is taken for each of the vacancies although the programme schedule for the by-elections may be common.” The Election Commission also stated that this is “in conformity with provisions of Section 147 to 151 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 and has been a consistent practice of the Commission in such cases.” It also pointed out a couple of Delhi High Court rulings in favour of separate elections.
This is a major departure from the procedure of the Rajya Sabha polls held in the year 2017. At that time, the preferential ballot system was used for conducting the Rajya Sabha elections. In this system, the ballot paper carries the names of the Rajya Sabha candidates and the MLAs are required to mark their preference by writing numbers, 1, 2, 3, 4, etc. in the order of their preference against the candidate’s name. This ballot comes with a single transferable vote and each MLA’s vote is counted only once. However, the single vote is transferable in the order of preference, i.e. if the MLA has given first preference to a particular candidate who polls the least number of votes, the MLA’s vote is transferred to the next candidate as per the order of preference decided by him.
In the separate ballot paper system, elections to the two Rajya Sabha seats will be conducted as separate elections with separate ballot boxes and ballot papers, therefore the issue of marking preference does not arise. Now, this can make a lot of difference in the upcoming Rajya Sabha by-polls in the state of Gujarat. The Congress has 77 MLAs in the state as opposed to BJP’s 100. Apart from this, there is one MLA from the NCP, two from the Bhartiya Tribal Party and three independents. In case of preferential system, a Rajya Sabha candidate would have required 61 MLAs voting the candidate as his first preference to emerge victorious. This would have paved the way for the Congress candidate as the part could have easily managed 61 MLAs.
But the equations change significantly in case of separate ballot paper system where the MLAs would vote separately for both the by-polls without any system for marking preference, the BJP will have a clear edge in both the cases since it has a clear majority in the Gujarat Legislative Assembly with 100 MLAs in the 182-member Assembly. What further aggravates the woes of the grand old party is the fact that the strength of the Rahul Gandhi led party has been reduced to 71 in the state. The recent defections of Alpesh Thakore and Dhavalsinh Zala, show that the party is unable to keep its house in order. The Congress has already cried foul and has filed a petition before the Supreme Court challenging the Election Commission notification to conduct the by-polls through separate ballot paper system.
The loss of these two seats, which looks likely, will further erode the might of Congress in the Rajya Sabha. Currently, Congres has 48 MPs in Rajya Sabha and it is likely to lose 12 of these by the next year. As such, these two seats could have given a breathing space for the party in the Upper House but now it looks increasingly unlikely.