With differences in BJP over nomination of eminent jurist Ram Jethmalani for a Rajya Sabha seat from Rajasthan, Congress is backing former Union Minister Santosh Bagrodia as an independent candidate there. Party sources said Congress is tacitly backing Bagrodia, an industrialist, to drive a wedge in the BJP with the calculation that only a few votes are required to ensure his victory.
In a last-minute development Bagrodia, till now Congress member of Rajya Sabha, filed his papers as an Independent on the last day of filing nominations after Congress did not re-nominate him and gave ticket to Union Minister Anand Sharma, whose re-entry into the Upper House would have been difficult from Himachal Pradesh where BJP is in power.
In the 200-member Rajasthan Assembly, the ruling Congress has 102 members, BJP (79), CPI-M (3), JD-U(1), Loktantrik Samajwadi Party (1) and SP (1). There are 13 Independents.
Congress will have a surplus of 34 votes in Rajasthan including 15 of independents and others, which are supporting its government there. Since the support of 41 members are required to win a seat, Bagrodia will have to manage just seven more votes. The party, however, remained tight lipped about the candidature of its leader Kanhaiyalal Gidwani in Maharashtra, who filed his nomination as an Independent candidate.
"The situation in Maharastra and Rajasthan are different. There is no Jethmalani in Maharashtra on which there can be divisions in the opposition," a senior party leader said on the condition of anonymity. He was asked whether the party is also backing Gidwani there, who today claimed he enjoyed support of 15 independents in the Assembly.
"I had lunch with the 15 independents and all of them unanimously assured me their support," Gidwani, whose candidature has necessitated the poll, told PTI in Mumbai.
The buzz in the state Congress circle is that Gidwani's candidature is backed by Union Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh and state revenue minister Narayan Rane. There are seven candidates in fray for six Rajya Sabha seats in Maharashtra. Gidwani's entry means each needs 42 first-preference votes to be sure of a win. In the 288-member House, Congress has 82 legislators, NCP has 62, BJP 46 and the Shiv Sena 45. There are 53 MLAs belonging to smaller parties and Independents.
"There are 53 'free' legislators and I won't have any problem getting the required votes," a confident Gidwani said. PTI