The disquiet within the Congress over fielding "outsiders" has given a boost to the BJP to field additional candidates beyond their legislative strength in the coming Rajya Sabha polls for 57 seats across 15 States.
The BJP has fielded additional candidates to the ones they can ensure wins, Dhananjay Mahadik in Maharashtra and Lahar Singh in Karnataka, while backing independent candidates, media barons Subhash Chandra in Rajasthan and Kartikeya Sharma in Haryana. In the latter two cases at least, the going will get difficult for the Congress. The most interesting battle is in Karnataka where both parties are trying to corner the Janata Dal (S) for the fourth seat.
In Rajasthan, where the Congress has fielded Randeep Surjewala, Mukul Wasnik and Pramod Tiwari, electing the third candidate will now be a tricky affair as media baron, Subhash Chandra, with the backing of the BJP, has queered the pitch .
Mr. Tiwari needs the vote of every independent MLA that is backing the Ashok Gehlot government. But one of them, Sanyam Lodha, a former Congressman who won the 2018 Assembly elections as an independent, asked the Congress to “explain” why it didn’t field anyone from Rajasthan.
On Tuesday, Mr. Gehlot sounded confident of winning all the three seats but accused the BJP of trying to indulging in horse-trading. “
As of now, Congress has 108 MLAs, BJP 71, Independents 13, Rashtriya Loktantrik Party (RLP) three, the CPI(M) and the Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTP) two each and Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) 1. The number of first preference votes required for winning is 41. The Congress, in its current position, can easily get two of its three candidates elected, and are counting on the support of 11 independents to get their third candidate elected.
Mr. Chandra, with the BJP's support, already has the 30 extra votes of the BJP and the support of the three RLP MLAs, and needs to get eight votes together to win. The aim, therefore, is to get many independents and the two BTP MLAs on one side.
In Haryana, factionalism cast a shadow on Congress leader Ajay Maken, as the Congress, with 31 MLAs, has just enough strength to see him through. But again Mr .Kartikeya Sharma has been fielded as an additional candidate who will make it tough for Mr. Maken.
On Monday, senior leader Kuldeep Bishnoi skipped a meeting of party MLAs in Chandigarh as he is upset at being ignored for the post of Pradesh Congress Committee chief and the Gandhis giving a free hand to former Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda.
"If the BJP manages to take way two Congress MLAs’ vote, then Ajay and Kartikeya will have almost equal number of first preference votes and then the second preference will come into play. In that scenario, Kartikeya will have an advantage,”explained a senior Haryana Congress leader.
Significantly, Mr Sharma is the son of former Congress leader Vinod Sharma and son-in-law of current leader Kuldip Sharma, considered close to Mr. Hooda.
Karnataka will see a different kind of chaos over the polls, with the Congress and the BJP both fielding "extra" candidates. With four berths at stake, each candidate requires 45 votes to win. The BJP, with 119 MLAs, can get two MPs elected easily - Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and actor Jaggesh with 29 votes surplus.
The Congress, with around 69 MLAs, can also get one candidate elected easily - former Union Minister Jairam Ramesh. The Janata Dal (S) which has, on paper at least, 31 MLAs (five MLAs have been declaring off record that they will defy the party whip) floated a candidate, Kupendra Reddy, thinking that it could persuade the other two parties not to put up a candidate and help get their candidate elected.
The Congress decided to have none of it, and announced the candidature of Mansoor Ali, as the JD(S) had lately making moves at wooing minorities, including making former Congress leader C.M. Ibrahim the JD(S) State president.
"If the JD(S) helps defeat a minority candidate, their game will get exposed," said a senior Congress leader on the issue.
Meanwhile, amid rumours that former Prime Minister Deve Gowda had appraoched the BJP to not field a third candidate and help get the JD(S) one elected, came Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekhara Rao's visit to Bengaluru and his meeting with Mr. Gowda.
This was, coincidentally, also the same day Prime Minister Modi was in Hyderabad and had made a scathing attack on Mr. Rao.
After this, the BJP decided that they too needed a third candidate, and it seems both the national parties want to squeeze the Janata Dal (S).
In Maharashtra too, allies Shiv Sena and NCP are said to be unhappy over the Congress's choice of Imran Pratapgarhi, who hails from Uttar Pradesh. While the two Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) constituents, the Sena and the NCP, felt that the Congress could have chosen someone from the State, State Congress general secretary Ashish Deshmukh resigned in protest. They MVA, however, expressed confidence that the alliance will pull through on all contested seats.
The polling day, June 10, is going to be full of fireworks across these States.