The trend of Uttar Pradesh Chief Ministers choosing the legislative council rather than the legislative assembly route may be bucked this time, if a statement of Yogi Adityanath made to reporters at the Gorakhnath temple is any indication.
With Adityanath saying that he would contest the upcoming UP elections from anywhere in the state if the Parliamentary Board of the BJP wants him to, there are chances that he may be an MLA rather than an MLC next year.
A few days ago, Samajwadi Party had distanced itself from Akhilesh Yadav’s purported statement that he would not contest the assembly elections, saying that the party had not taken any decision on it yet and Yadav had been misinterpreted.
Adityanath, under whom the BJP is in power with an absolute majority in India’s most populous state, had taken charge as an MLC after becoming Chief Minister of the state in September, 2017. Akhilesh Yadav was elected unopposed as MLC in April, 2012, when the Samajwadi Party won a clear majority and he took charge as Chief Minister.
The trend of Chief Ministers choosing to be MLCs in the state is even older. When she had stormed Uttar Pradesh with a clear majority, Mayawati of the BSP had also got elected to the legislative council in the state to remain Chief Minister, instead of contesting the 2007 assembly elections herself.
To be in power, a Chief Minister has to be a legislator. He must get elected as one within six months of assuming office. The same principle applies to the Prime Minister at the Centre, who must be elected to Parliament within six months of taking charge.
However, while Prime Ministers and Chief Ministers are in popular perception seen as directly elected leaders, they can always come through the Upper House and retain their executive post, wherever such an option exists. Dr. Manmohan Singh as Prime Minister was a member of the Rajya Sabha from Assam, rather than being a Lok Sabha MP.
Uttar Pradesh is one of the six states in India to have a legislative council (Vidhan Parishad), the others being Bihar, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.
For some time now, it is the route of the Upper House of the bicameral legislature in the state that some of the most popular Chief Ministers of UP have used to fulfill the constitutional requirement for being Chief Ministers.
What is the reason for this Vidhan Parishad-centrism among Chief Ministers in UP? Is it that they fancy themselves more as national leaders, and prefer to come to Parliament via the Lok Sabha or Rajya Sabha route when not in power, as the present example of Akhilesh Yadav, right now a Lok Sabha MP, shows?
“That is an assumption. We cannot tell that either way,” Allahabad-based academic Badri Narayan says. “However, there is a pragmatic reason for preferring the legislative council route. UP is a large state and extensive campaigning by the lead political figures is required. Top leaders, thus, want to campaign for their entire party and not get stuck on one seat.”
Narayan adds that a big leader contesting his own election may lead to rival parties deliberately fielding a candidate who can try to tie the leader in one constituency: “Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee lost her own election even in a TMC sweep in Bengal. What if one loses?” Bengal does not have an Upper House but UP does.
In 2007, Mayawati offered another reason while filing her nomination papers to the legislative council: “Unlike Mulayam Singh, who develops only his own constituency, I will focus equally on all the 403 constituencies in the state.” While the statement seemed more of an accusation on her then arch-rival, it did suggest a desire to be seen as leader of the state and not get specifically identified with one seat in a large and diverse state.