Cash-for-votes or the sale of seats is an open secret during Rajya Sabha Elections in Karnataka. This time, however, the state is likely to see a straight fight.
The reason is not the COVID-19 pandemic which has impacted all sectors of economy, just that no Independent candidate nor any money bags has evinced interest in entering the fray this time, with the three political parties BJP, Congress and the JD(S) deciding to field their stalwarts or loyalists. Elections to four Rajya Sabha seats from Karnataka are scheduled for June 19 with June 9 being the last date for filing of nomination papers.
The Congress has nominated party veteran and former MP Mallikarjun M Kharge for the lone seat it intends to contest based on the numerical strength of its MLAs in the Legislative Assembly. The JD(S) has proposed the name of former Prime Minister and its party supremo HD Deve Gowda. Both Kharge and Gowda were defeated in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.The state BJP's core committee is meeting on Saturday to shortlist the party candidates which will then be sent to the central leadership.
The JD(S)’ numerical strength in the last two decades has not crossed the 60 mark with 58 seats in 2004 being the highest tally. The party has, however, not only been a kingmaker in the formation of state governments in Karnataka but also managed to send business magnates to the Rajya Sabha. The trend of business tycoons entering the Parliament through the Upper House was set by Vijay Mallya in 2002. He contested as an Independent with the tacit support of the Congress.
Two years later, the JD(S) continued this trend and since 2004 has been backing business magnates seeking to get into the Rajya Sabha or the Legislative Council. In 2004, the party surprised all by backing industrialist and race horses owner MAM Ramaswamy; in 2006 and 2012 businessman and present BJP MP Rajeev Chandrashekar was the choice. In 2010 the party sponsored the candidature of business magnate Vijay Mallya, who with the BJP's support defeated the Congress candidate TV Maruthi.
The JD(S) has not given the Rajya Sabha ticket to any of its party members in recent years and Gowda will be the first. The latter had publicly promised JD(S) former secretary-general Kunwar Danish Al ia Rajya Sabha ticket and in 2014, once again gave it to realtor D Kupendra Reddy, who quit the Congress to become the JD(S) candidate. His seat will now be contested by Gowda.
The trend of fielding money bags did not stop and in 2016, with the JD(S) fielding another business magnate BM Farooq, which triggered a rebellion in the party. In the polls, eight of its MLAs cross-voted , some who are now in the Congress including B Z Zameer Ahmed Khan.
The talk about cash-for-votes and auctioning of seats during elections reached a flash point when a CD surfaced in 2014, in which former Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy is purportedly seen telling his party workers that JD(S) MLAs were demanding Rs one crore to vote for candidates to the Legislative Council polls. The purported conversation allegedly took place between Kumaraswamy and supporters of an MLC aspirant Vijugoud Patil from Bableshwar in Vijayapura district.
In all probability elections to the Rajya Sabha this time will be unanimous as both the Congress and the BJP are reportedly not keen on using their surplus votes and indulge in a numbers game to get one more candidate elected. The BJP is expected to field two candidates and if polls are necessitated is likely to transfer the excess votes to Gowda, who falls short of 10 votes. A candidate needs 44 votes to get elected and the JD(S) strength is 34.
According to a political observer who has seen the Rajya Sabha polls from close quarters for years, Gowda is reported to have networked with the high commands of the BJP and Congress to ensure his candidature is smooth sailing. “The Congress and BJP are keen to help Gowda enter the Rajya Sabha as this will send a good will message to the Vokkaliga community he represents that they helped him to get through. Gowda has good rapport with some of the BJP leaders at the Centre besides KPCC president DK Shivakumar also wants the message to go across to the Vokkaliga community of the Congress support, while Gowda has managed to convince CLP leader Siddaramaiah through his son HD Revanna,” sources said.