With chief ministerial candidates increasingly opting out of contesting in assembly elections, what was once an exception is now becoming the norm in Uttar Pradesh.
A case in point is Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav, who has decided against stepping onto the electoral battlefield in favour of remaining “an MLC till 2018”.
The decision, observers believe, may be due to either a lack of confidence in winning or an overall change in perception about the importance once attached to seeking the direct mandate of the people.
Opting to take the no-risk route, these chief ministerial candidates instead depend on the state’s upper house – the Vidhan Parishad – because the Constitution only requires one to become a member of either house within six months of occupying the hot seat.
A look at the developments ahead of the upcoming elections in Uttar Pradesh shows that the chief ministerial candidates of all political parties have opted against contesting on assembly seats, much like generals who control and command their armies but do not fight on the front.
Besides Akhilesh and BSP supremo Mayawati, Jayant Chaudhary – the Rashtriya Lok Dal’s chief ministerial candidate – has also decided against taking a chance with the people’s mandate.
The BJP, for its part, has not named a CM candidate yet. One doesn’t even know if the party will pick its chief minister from polling candidates or bring in a completely new face after the die is cast.
Hriday Narayan Dixit, veteran BJP leader and former law minister, said the Constitution only requires that the chief ministerial candidate be elected to either house of the state assembly within six months of being appointed. However, the chief minister should “ideally come from the Vidhan Sabha and not the Vidhan Parishad”, he added.
“When Rajnath Singh ran for chief minister in 2000, he sought direct election from Haidergarh assembly seat instead of opting for the safe and easy Vidhan Parishad route,” recalled Dixit.
The BJP has always advocated the need for the chief minister or prime minister to come from the lower house. Hence, the party found itself in a moral quandary of sorts when the time came for Ram Prakash Gupta to be elected to the upper house for replacing Kalyan Singh as the chief minister in 1999.
The trend of the chief ministerial candidates seeking the Vidhan Parishad route instead of getting elected to the Vidhan Sabha started gaining currency after BSP supremo Mayawati decided against contesting the 2007 assembly elections, surprising everyone.
Later, Mayawati was elected to the Vidhan Parishad unopposed to continue as chief minister. “I chose to become an MLC instead of an MLA because I want to focus on developing all 403 assembly constituencies of the state – not just mine – unlike Mulayam Singh Yadav, who cares only for his home area,” she had said then.
Mayawati did not contest from any assembly seat in 2012 either. Akhilesh, who was then the Kannuaj MP, followed suit. Even after the Samajwadi Party won by a robust margin and Akhilesh was appointed as the next chief minister, he chose to get elected from the Vidhan Parishad instead of contesting an assembly bypoll. “Some MLAs have offered to vacate their seats for me. But it will not be fair to them or the people who voted for them. I will, therefore, seek election to the Vidhan Parishad,” he announced at the time.
Detractors, however, believe the real reason is the fear of an embarrassing electoral defeat.
“There have been instances of political stalwarts losing in direct polls,” said an RLD leader, adding that chief ministerial candidates would earlier contest from multiple assembly seats to score at least one win. “However, not contesting the assembly polls at all is a new trend in the state,” he said.