The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by the BJP managed to win the two Rajya Sabha seats from Assam, which were up for polls on Thursday (March 31). The elected MPs were Pabitra Margherita of the BJP and Rwngra Narzary of the United People’s Party Liberal (UPPL), an alliance partner in the NDA government of Assam.
Until 2015, Congress held power in the North-Eastern State of Assam. In fact, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh represented Assam in the Rajya Sabha as a Congress MP from the State between 1991 and 2019.
After being decimated in the recently concluded Vidhan Sabha elections in the 5 States of Goa, Punjab, Manipur, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh, the Congress party was eyeing to win one of the two seats of the Rajya Sabha.
However, to its dismay, Congress’ outgoing Rajya Sabha MP Ripun Bora was able to manage only 35 votes, falling short of 8 votes. BJP’s Pabitra Margherita won 46 votes while UPPL’s Rwngra Narzary secured a total of 44 votes.
The current composition of the Assam State Legislature
The BJP has a strength of 63 MLAs while its alliance partners, United People’s Party Liberal (UPPL) and Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) have 7 and 9 MLAs respectively. In total, NDA has a total of 79 seats in the Assam Legislative Assembly.
The Bodoland People’s Front (BPF) with three of its MLAs had also extended support to the Himanta Biswa government. On the contrary, Congress has 27 MLAs, All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) has 15 MLAs, and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) has one MLA. The Assembly also has one MLA from Raijor Dal.
Cross voting by Opposition for NDA candidates
Himanta Biswa Sarma, a firebrand BJP leader and the Chief Minister of Assam, had appealed to the Opposition parties, except AIUDF, to vote for the NDA candidates during the Assam Rajya Sabha elections. As per a report in The Financial Express, Sarma worked behind the scenes to ensure the victory of the UPPL candidate as the Rajya Sabha MP.
Although the victory of BJP candidate Pabitra Margherita was certain on one seat, the Opposition parties had vowed to support Congress candidate Ripun Bora for the 2nd seat against Rwngra Narzary.
However, the NDA received a total of 90 votes, which is 11 higher than their current strength of 79. A large number of ‘Opposition members’ voted in support of the UPPL candidate Rwngra Narzary. It must be mentioned that 3 MLAs from the Bodoland People’s Front had extended their support to the BJP. It implied that the saffron party had the backing of 8 Opposition MLAs.
Although all 126 members of the Assam Vidhan Sabha had voted for the Rajya Sabha elections, only one vote belonging to that of South Karimganj MLA Siddique Ahmed was found to be invalid.
In a letter dated March 31, 2022, the Assam Pradesh Congress Committee announced that Ahmed would be removed from the primary membership of the Congress party for disobeying the three-line whip as issued by Wazed Ali Chowdhury.
The order claimed that the South Karimganj MLA ‘intentionally’ violated party order by writing ‘One’ instead of ‘1’ on the ballot paper. Siddique Ahmed dismissed the allegations and vowed to take up the matter with the party’s high command.
The grand old party had also suspended Raha MLA Shashi Kanta Das for openly supporting and voting for the NDA candidate. In October last year, Congress had suspended Baghbor MLA Sherman Ali Ahmed for repeatedly violating party discipline. It is believed that he too had voted in support of the BJP.
On Thursday (March 31), the counting of votes was initially delayed after Congress had lodged a complaint with the Chief Election Commissioner against 3 BJP MLAs, 1 MLA from the Bodoland People’s Front (BPF) and 1 MLA from its own party.
Reportedly, the counting began at 10:30 pm and continued until late at night. Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma had hailed the cross-party voting as the result of ‘conscience votes.’
Assam has reposed its faith in PM Sri @narendramodi ji by electing two NDA candidates to the Rajya Sabha by huge margins – BJP’s Sri Pabitra Margherita (won by 11 votes) & UPPL’s Sri Rwngwra Narzary (won by 9 votes).— Himanta Biswa Sarma (@himantabiswa) March 31, 2022
My compliments to winners @AmitShah @JPNadda @blsanthosh pic.twitter.com/Lozn8hkNGg
In a tweet, he remarked, “Assam has reposed its faith in PM Sri Narendra Modi ji by electing two NDA candidates to the Rajya Sabha by huge margins – BJP’s Sri Pabitra Margherita (won by 11 votes) & UPPL’s Sri Rwngwra Narzary (won by 9 votes). My compliments to winners.”
War-of-words ensures between Opposition over cross voting
A day before Congress’ outgoing Rajya Sabha MP Ripun Bora was defeated, Assam Pradesh Congress Committee President Bhupen Kumar Bora had accused Badruddin Ajmal-led-AIUDF of ‘dhokebaazi’ (betrayal) and selling his 5 MLAs to the BJP. He had said, “AIUDF has sold five of its MLAs to the BJP. Therefore, the AIUDF can be called Agar Industries Undemocratic Dhokahaa Front.”
On Friday (April 1), Congress spokesperson Manjit Mahanta had accused 5 MLAs of AIUDF, namely, Karimuddin Barbhuiya, Abdul Aziz, Ashraful Hussain, Hafiz Rafikul Islam and Aminul Islam of visiting Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sarma’s house at 6 am and leaving 2.5 hours later after conducting meetings.
Speculations have been rife in the Opposition camp about the ‘identity’ of the MLAs who voted against the party line in support of the NDA. The Congress and the AIUDF have begun trading charges, with each accusing the other of treachery, reported The Hindu.
“The voting made it clear that the Congress could not keep its flock together. All of our 15 MLAs voted for the Congress candidate, as was decided, but they are trying to put the blame on us,” remarked Aminul Islam of AIUDF.
In its defence, APCC President Bhupen Kumar Borah said that barring 2 suspended MLAs and one whose vote was disqualified, all other MLAs voted for the Congress candidate.
Assuming that 5 AIUDF MLAs and 2 suspended Congress MLAs voted in favour of the BJP, it still does not explain the extra vote that was polled for the saffron party. It must be mentioned that the Opposition also includes a CPI (M) MLA named Manoranjan Talukdar and a Raijor Dal MLA named Akhil Gogoi.
AIUDF has hit out at Gogoi and accused him of ‘horse trading’ in exchange for a large sum of money. Karimuddin Barbhuiya had even claimed that he has video evidence to prove allegations against the Raijor Dal MLA.
While labelling the AIUDF MLA as a ‘broker’, Akhil Gogoi had remarked, “I do not need a certificate from such people. People know who I am and what I think of the BJP.”
The voting mechanism in Rajya Sabha
Elections to the Upper House of the Parliament are conducted through a system of indirect voting. Unlike the Lok Sabha, the Rajya Sabha MPs are elected by members of the State Legislative Assembly (aka MLAs) through proportional representation using the single transferable vote (STV) system.
Under the system, a vote of an MLA is counted only once and he cannot vote for each seat. By doing so, our Constitution makers ensured that representatives of parties, other than the ruling party, get fair representation in the Upper House of the Parliament.
“The MLAs are given a paper with the names of all candidates. They have to give their order of preference for each candidate, marking 1,2,3… against their names. If 10 or more members choose a candidate as their first choice, he/she gets elected. The political party that has a majority in the state Assembly normally gets to send the maximum number of MPs to the Rajya Sabha,” a report by Debayan Roy in News18 stated.
The formula used for the calculation of minimum votes to secure a Rajya Sabha seat is given as: [(Number of MLAs X 100) / (Vacancies + 1)] + 1.
For instance, Assam has a total strength of 126 MLAs in its State Assembly. When multiplied by 100, we get a total of 12,600. Given that there were only 2 vacancies, the same formula can be rearranged as:
[(126 X 100) / (2 + 1)] + 1 = (12600/3)+ 1 = 4200+1 = 4201
By adhering to the BODMAS rule, we will add the 1 after obtaining the result of division aka 4200. Given that every MLA has 100 votes, each candidate who contested the Assam Rajya Sabha election on Thursday needed 4201 votes or the support of 43 MLAs to win.
Given that BJP’s Pabitra Margherita and UPPL’s Rwngra Narzary had the backing of 46 and 44 MLAs respectively, they were elected as the representatives from Assam to the Upper House of the Parliament.