When the central government on August last year brought in the Rajya Sabha the contentious bill to revoke Article 370 of the Constitution, scrapping Jammu and Kashmir’s special status, it left the opposition stunned. But what came as a bigger shock to the Congress was when its Chief Whip in the Upper House announced his resignation the same morning.
Bhubaneswar Kalita turned an instant villain in the hearts and minds of the Congress party. Four days later, he joined the BJP at its headquarters in Delhi, foregoing his term of close to eight months still left in the Rajya Sabha.
When the BJP on Wednesday declared its tickets for the ensuing Rajya Sabha elections, the list featured Kalita’s name. Party insiders say it was a reward for the senior parliamentarian after his stand in support of Article 370 and for delivering a blow to the Congress in the nick of time.
Kalita, expecting the reward, was seen in Parliament on Wednesday and even met Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a one-to-one meeting before heading to file his nomination papers from Assam. It may be noted that troubleshooter and Rajya Sabha MP CM Ramesh and Assam Finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma played crucial roles in landing Kalita to their side.
The Congress first brought Kalita to the Rajya Sabha in 2008, being re-elected in 2014.
Assam has three seats in the Rajya Sabha. Apart from Kalita, the BJP has given a ticket to the Bodoland People’s Front’s Biswajit Daimary. The third ticket is being contested by Ajit Bhuyan, a journalist, who actively participated in the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and has been jointly fielded by the Assam Congress and Badruddin Ajmal’s All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF).
Speaking to CNN-News18 minutes after his name was announced in the BJP list, Kalita expressed his happiness and said he hopes to continue to represent the voice of the people of Assam. “I am glad that the leadership has expressed confidence in me,” he said. “I will head to the state tonight and file my nomination in the next day or so.”
Jyotiraditya Scindia was also nominated by the BJP from Madhya Pradesh, a day after he resigned from the Congress and barely hours after he joined the saffron party in the presence of several senior leaders in New Delhi. Scindia is expected to file his nomination papers over the next day or two.
Another turncoat also featured on BJP’s list of Rajya Sabha poll candidate -- Udayanraje Bhosale won the Lok Sabha elections last year on a ticket from the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). But closer to the Maharashtra Assembly polls and towards the fag end of last year, he dumped Sharad Pawar and jumped ship to the BJP.
The bye-polls for Bhosale’s Lok Sabha seat happened alongside the state assembly elections. Considered a prestige battle for the NCP chief, Pawar took it up head on. His famous speech from Satara, delivered in the midst of rain with images showing a drenched Pawar, ensured Maratha pride was on his side and Bhosale’s defeated.
However, Bhosale was promised a Rajya Sabha seat by central leaders, with speculation also rife that in the absence of that he may even look to switch back to his former party or even the Congress.
Bhosale is a direct descendent of the family of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj and is said to be an important symbol of Maratha pride. Marathas account for 27% of the votes in the state, with Bhosale’s constituency making up a large chunk of population, about 35% and roundabouts.