Monday, November 29, 1999

Political heavyweights fate at stake as RS polls begin

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Polling for 18 Rajya Sabha seats in five states began on Thursday to decide the fate of Union minister Anand Sharma, LJP supremo Ram Vilas Paswan, legal luminary Ram Jethmalani, former BJP chief M Venkaiah Naidu and liquor baron Vijay Mallya among others.The BJP is faced with opposition within its ranks in Rajasthan over the candidature of Jethmalani for having defended Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru. The party has herded its legislators in a hotel to keep the flock together.The decision of CPI(M) to abstain from voting in Rajasthan seems to have favoured the chances of two BJP candidates as an aspirant would now require 40 votes instead of earlier 41 to sail through.Under the circumstances, the BJP with its 79 members and one JD (U) MLA would not require vote from outside if all of them back Jethmalani and the other nominee V P Singh. Besides, keeping its MLAs in the hotel, BJP has also issued a whip.The ruling Congress with its strength of 102 MLAs in the Rajasthan Assembly has already ensured the victory of Anand Sharma, Commerce and Industry Minister, and Ashq Ali Tak, and the party is keen to see industrialist-cum-politician Santosh Bagrodia entering the Upper House. Bagrodia, however, needs outside support.In Karnataka, where four seats are up for grabs, Mallya is all set to win one of them with the support of ruling BJP which was initially divided over its backing to him because his candidature was favoured by its friend-turned-foe JD(S)."BJP has taken a decision to defeat the Congress candidate in the Rajya Sabha election as per the directive by the national leadership," state unit BJP chief K S Eswarappa said in Bangalore, indicating his party would help Mallya, the JD-S backed independent, to ensure his second term.Mallya has spoken to Chief Minister B S Yeddyurappa and other BJP leaders, he said responding to a query but sidestepped a question on whether any decision has been taken to vote for the liquor baron.Mallya needs 45 first preference votes for victory.Of the 56 vacancies, 32 candidates including Union Minister Ambika Soni, Gandhi family loyalist Satish Sharma, BJP leader Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, senior journalist Chandan Mitra and Union Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh were elected unopposed.

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