Crucial polls today: A guide to calculus of Rajya Sabha for dummies

We all know about the FPTP system of Lok Sabha elections.

FPTP stands for “first past the post” and it’s the simplest form of election in the world — as simple as winning a race. There are a fixed number of candidates on the ballot; people vote for their preferred candidate and the candidate getting the highest number of votes wins. This is the easiest to understand. Easiest to vote. Easiest to count. And easiest to declare the winner.

But then there is something called the Rajya Sabha election that even Albert Einstein would have hated… probably.

This is simply because it is indirect. This is the most complex election to understand. Most complex election to vote. Most complex election to count. And most complex election to declare the winner.

So, lets leave the PhD research on the complex mechanism of Rajya Sabha elections and try to understand the basics.

But first, here’s a little refresher:






What we need to understand next are a few simple points:

1) Let’s use the example of Uttar Pradesh to explain this. UP has 31 members in the Rajya Sabha. So after every two-year cycle, it elects a third of these 31 MPs. That makes it a cycle of 10+10+11 MPs over six years.

2) So in 2012, Uttar Pradesh elected 10 Rajya Sabha MPs, and then in 2014, it elected 10 MPs, and this year, it has to elect 11 MPs. In 2018, it will once again hold elections for 10 Rajya Sabha MPs and so on.

3) Now in Uttar Pradesh, we have 403 members of the Vidhan Sabha (these MLAs are the voters of for these 11 Rajya Sabha seats). To win a Rajya Sabha seat, a candidate should get a certain minimum number of votes. That number (quotient) is calculated using the following formula:

Quotient = Total number of votes divided by (Number of Rajya Sabha seats contested + 1)

4) So the required number of votes to win a Rajya Sabha seat in Uttar Pradesh is: 403/(11+1)=34 votes.

5) Before we get down to the calculations of a Rajya Sabha election, it is important to understand that parties generally know their strength on the floor and number of seats that they can win. For example in Bihar, there were five Rajya Sabha seats on the block this year. Going by their Assembly strength, the RJD-JDU alliance could have won four and the BJP could have won just one seat. So they fielded only four and one candidates respectively. Since there were only five candidates in the fray; there was no need for actual “voting” and all these five candidates were elected “unopposed”. No problem whatsoever.

6) There would have been a “problem” if there were six or more candidates in the fray for these five seats. That would have forced a vote and that is when the calculations would have come into play.

7) Now, let’s understand the situation in Uttar Pradesh. There are 11 seats up for grabs. If the parties had fielded only 11 candidates — understanding and respecting their actual strength on the ground — there would not have been any problem. But at the last moment, the BJP fielded an “Independent” candidate, which has now forced the process of “voting”.

8) As mentioned earlier, the UP Vidhan Sabha has 403 MLAs and in these 11 Rajya Sabha seats; the magic number is 34 votes to get elected.

9) Now, here is the catch. In the Rajya Sabha election, sitting MLAs don’t get to vote for each seat. If that was to happen, then only the ruling party with a majority in Vidha Sabha would win all the seats. Rather, the members give preferences for each candidate (their first preference, second preference, third preference and so on). In the current round of elections in Uttar Pradesh, if 34 or more MLAs choose a candidate as their first choice, that candidate will get elected.

10) Now let’s see the current strength of different parties in Uttar Pradesh Vidhan Sabha to understand the calculation:


11) So, you can see that only Mayawati has fielded two candidates as per her party strength and has 12 ‘surplus’ votes. The ruling Samajwadi Party can get six of its candidates ‘clear’ with the first preference votes and is just nine short of getting its seventh candidate elected. With the RLD pitching its eight MLAs and one Independent MLA, they are sure to get all of the seven SP candidates through.

12) Now the BJP can get just one candidate through purely on the strength of their 41 sitting MLAs. They had seven “surplus” votes and they fielded another candidate as Independent. This has created trouble for the Congress candidate Kapil Sibal who is five short of the magic number.

13) So the BJP-supported candidate is 27 short of the required number while Sibal is just five short of the required number. From a distance, it looks as though Sibal’s task is easy. It should be. It could be. But will it be? That’s the million dollar question. Sibal’s hopes hinge totally on Mayawati. If she decides to support him with her 12 ‘surplus’ voters, he can breathe easy. Unfortunately for him, the BSP has not yet made any such announcement.

14) Now even if the BSP made an announcement, there is no guarantee that those 12 ‘surplus’ MLAs could vote for Sibal. The reason is that in the Rajya Sabha elections — despite being an open election (which means the voters have to ‘show’ which candidate they have voted for) — the anti-defection law does not apply. Therefore, even if an MLA violates party whip, he or she will not lose membership of the House.

15) This is what opens the floor for what we know as ‘cross-voting’. But before that, let’s first understand where the Congress candidate stands vis-à-vis the ‘extra’ BJP candidate? We know that technically speaking, the BJP-supported Independent is short of 27 votes and the Congress candidate is short of five votes. If you look at the table of all ‘surplus’ votes in the House (after shifting eight RLD and one Independent MLA to the SP kitty), we have precisely 27 MLAs left. Even if just five of these ‘surplus’ MLAs vote first preference to Sibal, then he should win.

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16) Looks easy enough. But it’s easier said than done. Why exactly does Sibal — just five votes short of the magic number — look nervous while the BJP-supported candidate — who is 27 short — looks confident? There is something wrong here, right? What exactly are we missing?

17) Well, the answer lies in point number 14. Even though this is an open election, the anti-defection law doesn’t apply here. So while Sibal is looking at Mayawati or other ‘surplus’ MLAs to come up with five more votes, his hopes rest on the fact that he has 29 Congress MLAs with him. But, are they really with him? That’s the important question. There have been reports that many of the sitting Congress, BSP and even SP MLAs are looking forward to contesting the next Assembly election on a BJP ticket. If party president Amit Shah promises them that ticket, they are more than willing to ditch their own party and vote for the BJP candidate in these Rajya Sabha elections.

18) So keeping this ‘future equation’ in mind, the base figure for Sibal could be a lot lower than current Congress strength of 29 MLAs. The vulnerable Congress MLAs open for ‘poaching’ brings the realistic tally of ‘surplus’ votes to almost 60. Now, the BJP has to manage only around 27 such votes by simply promising them a party ticket in the 2017 Assembly election.

19) The nomination papers of BJP-supported Independent candidate Preeti Mahapatra give a glimpse of what is in store. Her papers were signed not only by 16 BJP MLAs but also by some MLAs of the SP, BSP, AD and NCP. The Indian Express reported that while supporting Mahapatra in the election, the BJP top brass is also ‘checking the loyalty’ of those legislators of other political parties who reportedly are seeking BJP tickets for the 2017 Assembly polls. A senior BJP leader was reported saying “If these MLAs do not vote in favour of the BJP-supported candidate, they will not be considered for the party (ticket).”

20) And this is when we are only talking about the first preference votes. What if even after ‘cross-voting’, neither Sibal nor Mahapatra manage to get 34 “first preference” votes? What if Sibal gets only four of the remaining 27 surplus votes and gets struck at a total of 33 votes — just one vote short — and Mahapatra gets the remaining 23 votes, remaining four votes short of the required numbers? Then the contest become much more complicated as the second preference votes will be counted.

Now if you really wish to understand how the second preference votes are counted; I can assure you it is so complicated that it almost feels like doing a PhD in statistics. Those who really wish to do this PhD, are advised to check out this post on Quora.

In short, I can tell you that if it goes into the counting of second preference votes, Sibal stands a better chance as the SP/BSP might ask its MLAs to write Sibal’s name as the second preference. And that would be a strong number of second preference votes. So for the BJP to upset Sibal’s chances, the only straightforward option is to ‘manage’ 27 votes in the first preference itself. Their candidate says she already has support of total 16 MLAs (seven ‘surplus’ BJP MLAs and nine other MLAs).

Going by her numbers, the BJP needs to ‘manage’ 18 MLAs more at the ‘first preference’ stage itself. Will they come from the Congress? Or SP? Or BSP?

Nobody knows.

Or maybe Mayawati will bulldoze everything else by supporting Sibal upfront. It seems unlikely at the moment and if she wished to, she would have done so by now. Besides, there is always a ‘caged parrot’, which might have some magical effect on her while taking a decision to openly support the Congress candidate.

It ain’t over till its over. But till then, it’s all about Antaratma Ki Awaaz. Anything is possible.