On the first day of June, the world learnt that Subhash Chandra belonged to Rajasthan. The Times of India that day quoted the Essel group chairman calling it his “native” state. The backdrop was political. Chandra’s revelation came after he filed his nomination for Rajya Sabha as an independent candidate from Rajasthan with the support of the Bharatiya Janata Party.
“I still have a house, family and temple at Fatehpur in the Shekhawati region,” , currently a Rajya Sabha member from Haryana. “I visit the place six times in a year.”
The Times seemed sceptical of Chandra’s claim of nativity, cheekily adding that the Zee baron, 71, was born in Haryana’s Hisar. But Chandra’s economy with truth could’ve been gleaned better from his own words. In his 2016 memoir The Z Factor: My Journey as the Wrong Man at the Right Time, he that his ancestors belonged to Haryana but had moved to Rajasthan “forty generations ago”. “Not satisfied with trading options there [Rajasthan], they decided to create a settlement just a few kilometres from Hisar, in a small village called Sadalpur,” Chandra wrote.
The industrialist’s Rajya Sabha nomination, however, was interesting beyond his dubious origin story. Media pundits called it a surprise, that the nomination “queered the pitch” for the governing Congress in Rajasthan. Chief minister Ashok Gehlot did not seem happy either. “I don't know why the BJP has played the game,” he told the media after Chandra’s nomination became public. "From where will they bring votes? They want to indulge in horse-trading. This is not a good tradition.”
In 2020, when deputy chief minister Sachin Pilot had rebelled against the party, the CM had accused the BJP of bribing Congress MLAs with crores of rupees to switch and topple his government. The reason he called it “not a good tradition” is because Chandra’s entry has rained on the Congress parade of marching three of its candidates to the Rajya Sabha.
In 2016, Chandra had won his Rajya Sabha seat from Haryana at the expense of Congress-backed independent candidate RK Anand. His victory became a because the votes of 14 Congress MLAs were cancelled after they used wrong pens. In his five years since, Chandra has had 55 percent attendance in the upper house, way below the national average of 78 percent and the state average of 86 percent.
“His entry has introduced uncertainty around the Rajya Sabha elections in Rajasthan,” a source in the Congress told Newslaundry. “Game kharab kar raha hai. He might win or lose, but he’s bent on sabotaging the hopes of one of our candidates.”
The Rajya Sabha maths in Rajasthan
Let us look at the maths. The Rajasthan assembly has 200 seats – 108 with the Congress, 71 with the BJP, 13 independents, and the remaining 8 with the Rashtriya Lok Dal, Rashtriya Loktantrik Party, Bharatiya Tribal Party and the Communist Party of India Marxist. The state’s assembly elects four Rajya Sabha representatives and each needs at least 41 votes.
The numbers give certainty for three seats. The Congress can pull together 82 votes and send two candidates to Rajya Sabha and the BJP can send one with 41. But both parties have extra votes – Congress 26 and BJP 30 – and the clamour for the fourth seat begins here.
The governing party wishes to send three leaders to the upper house – Mukul Wasnik from Maharashtra, Randeep Surjewala from Haryana and Pramod Tiwari from Uttar Pradesh. But with Chandra’s foot in the door, media reports that Tiwari’s election will not be easy.
For Tiwari to sail through, the Congress should have 123 MLAs on its side. An aide of Tiwari seemed optimistic. He told Newslaundry that the party had 126 votes with support from 13 independents, 1 RLD MLA and 2 MLAs each from BTP and CPI(M).
But the BJP can upset this optimism. It has nominated Sanganer MLA Ghanshyam Tiwari for the first seat and needs 11 votes to secure Chandra’s seat too. The Rashtriya Loktantrik Party has its three votes to Chandra, and so the magic number descends to eight.
How the saffron party corners these eight votes is the source of the governing party’s anxiety. For one, if indeed horse-trading is on the cards, the BJP’s bank balance Congress’s. Second, the regional parties on which the Congress banks for support aren’t that supportive.
The Congress’s un-allied allies
The Bharatiya Tribal Party is a case in point. Pramod Tiwari’s team believes that BTP’s two MLAs will vote for Congress candidates, but speaking to Newslaundry, BTP Rajasthan president Velaram Ghogra denied this. “We are not going to vote for candidates of either the Congress or the BJP,” said Ghogra. “Matters of the adivasi community have not been given attention by the Gehlot government. The BJP too is anti-adivasi.”
But the BTP is open to changing its mind. “There are more than 7,000 police cases against tribal youths for the teachers’ protest,” Goghra said, referring to over greater recruitment in government teaching positions in Rajasthan. “If the CM rescinds these cases and takes up our demands by June 9, we might vote for the Congress.”
Pilot, Gehlot, and other rifts
The elephant in the room, however, is the gulf between Pilot and Gehlot. On Tuesday, Chandra told the media that eight Congress MLAs will cross-vote for him and asked Pilot to defect. “This is an opportunity to take revenge or to give a message,” . “If he [Pilot] misses this opportunity, he will not be able to become the chief minister till 2028."
Newslaundry reached out to Chandra’s office but it was unavailable for comment.
In the Congress camp, however, the Pilot-Gehlot rift is easily dismissed. “It was a difference of personalities, not ideology,” the source in the Congress told Newslaundry. “Pilot did not switch parties, unlike Ghanshyam Tiwari.”
In the Congress strategy, Tiwari might be the weak link in the BJP camp. “If the BJP tries to exploit the Pilot-Gehlot differences, we’ll strike at the Tiwari-Raje rift,” said the source.
The Sanganer MLA, 74, was one of the founders of the BJP in Rajasthan. In 2017, Tiwari had fired salvos at then CM Vasundhara Raje, the saffron party’s mainstay in the state, accusing her of corruption. Despite his RSS background, he quit the party in 2018 and floated his own front which merged with the Congress in 2019. Tiwari returned to the BJP in 2020.
Pramod Tiwari’s aide elaborated the intrigue. “Ghanshyam Tiwari and Vasundhara Raje do not like each other,” he claimed. “Raje has at least 43 loyal MLAs which might not vote for Tiwari. Chandra has been introduced to keep the BJP’s flock together and we can prevent that.”
Why BJP might have an upper hand
In the many possibilities of Rajasthan politics, the Congress might claim that it is as clever and adroit as the BJP. But realistically, it seems much easier for the BJP to get eight more votes than the Congress to hope that three dozen BJP MLAs will let their party down. The BJP might have dissensions, but, , it is the Congress that politically suffers because of them.
A Bahujan Samaj Party politician in Rajasthan, with a few decades of politics behind him, views the drama around Chandra’s candidature with contempt. “Chandra would not have entered this race without a calculation of his profit and loss,” he said. “With his track record, it is hard to predict what will happen on election day. What is more certain is that there are no principles left in politics anymore. MLAs are only weighed in cash.”
Subhash Chandra might have faced several struggles in his life. But this time, his hardship is also the hardship of 200 MLAs, two political parties and one state. More on June 10.
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