Logistical issues related to the coronavirus pandemic concerns have added to the political anxieties around the biennial elections to Rajya Sabha on June 19.
Fifty-seven seats had to be filled in the Upper House in March but the elections got postponed due to the Covid-19 national lockdown. With 33 candidates elected unopposed, elections are now to be held on June 19 for 24 seats, most of which are in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.
In Gujarat, State Education Minister Bhupendrasinh Chudasama’s Personal Assistant (PA) tested positive for Covid-19 on Tuesday. It was not immediately clear if the Minister had come in direct contact with him in recent days and no official statement has been released about whether the Minister would quarantined.
However, there are concerns over the conduct of the voting. So far, three BJP MLAs and one Congress legislator have tested positive for Covid-19. All of them have completed their treatment and come out of quarantine so the hope is that the voting will be undertaken without much hurdle. The voting time provides sufficient room for 172 (of the 182 members of the house) to vote while maintaining the required precautions for Covid-19.
In Madhya Pradesh, the ruling BJP has urged the Election Commission to hold the polls by maintaining social distancing and making logistical arrangements even as it faces accusations of “poaching” and “arm-twisting” by the opposition Congress. Also, a social activist moved the Jabalpur High Court seeking postponement of the polls. The petitioner argued that since 24 seats are vacant in the Assembly out of the 230 seats, a good number of people will not be represented if the election is held now. “Thus, more than a tenth of the house will not be represented in voting on June 19 for the election to the three vacancies of Madhya Pradesh in the Rajya Sabha,” the petitioner argued.
A fierce contest will be seen in the Madhya Pradesh Assembly from which 22 MLAs had resigned this March along with Congress leader Jyotiraditya Scindia, who joined the BJP and was rewarded with a Rajya Sabha seat. Along with Scindia, who has also been diagnosed with Covid-19, the second BJP candidate is Sumer Singh Solanki.
The Congress candidates are Digvijaya Singh and Phool Singh Baraiya for the three vacancies from the State. The strength of the Assembly at present is 206 and the BJP has 107 members. It needs 104 votes to elect two candidates. The Congress has 92 legislators and also expects the support of one SP and two BSP MLAs. There are four independent MLAs. A couple of them have already pledged support to the BJP.
The BJP is supremely confident of getting its two candidates elected and sees no rationale in postponing the polls either on account of Covid-19 or lack of representation.
“It is preferential form of voting. The electorate consists of MLAs. I don’t think there is a need for changing the schedule. The Election Commission can give slots for five or ten MLAs to enter to avoid crowding. There was no need to stretch the matter to court. No need to target any MLAs. The poll must be held as planned. The EC can easily manage the crowd at polling station,” BJP spokesperson Hitesh Vajpayee told BusinessLine over phone from Bhopal.
Meanwhile, in Rajasthan, the voting process is expected to take place smoothly. Congress general secretary in-charge of organisation KC Venugopal, who is a candidate from Rajasthan, said there is no reason to postpone the election on account of Covid-19.
“Social distancing should not be a problem. There are just 200 MLAs and voting time is between 9 am to 4 pm,” he said.