While legislative logjam sapped the reformist zeal of the UPA government due to lack of numbers in Rajya Sabha, it is set to haunt the next government as well even in the hypothetical scenario of Narendra Modi coming to power at the Centre with a clear mandate.
The February 7 biennial elections for 55 seats are unlikely to change equations significantly with only marginal or no impact on the strength of the two major parties, the Congress and BJP, in the Upper House, which would again give a decisive say to regional parties, which, by and large, are not known to be reforms-friendly.
Although there will also be elections for 17 seats falling vacant later this year and for eight falling vacant next year — excluding the two vacancies for nominated members in November 2015 — the way the numbers are stacked in Assemblies, the central government’s minority status in Rajya Sabha is unlikely to change until 2016, unless an array of regional parties form part of the new dispensation. The next government may hope to secure a majority in Rajya Sabha only around mid-2016. As many as 75 seats, including five nominated ones, spread across 19 states, will fall vacant in 2016.
Conscious of its numerical strength in Rajya Sabha, the BJP seems to be already exploring options. “It is not through legislations that the government runs, it’s through executive powers,” a key BJP strategist and former Cabinet minister told The Indian Express.
Confident of regaining power after a decade-long hiatus, the principal opposition party is said to be already exploring options to implement its agenda without necessarily going through the legislative route.
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While the UPA government had shied away from pushing many contentious economic reforms agenda due to lack of political consensus coupled with its minority status in the Upper House, the Congress-led government’s energy was mostly spent on cajoling and pandering to its outside supporters — the SP and the BSP — to get the numbers when cornered by the Opposition, be it at the time of voting on FDI in retail or on the Women’s Reservation Bill or the Lokpal and Lokayukta Bill. On some occasions, the government had to even face embarrassment as it had to defer a legislation like the Education Tribunal Bill, after introducing it in the Rajya Sabha. While the BJP had a good time in Parliament at the UPA’s expense, the opposition party has obviously learnt lessons from the latter’s experience as it looks to optimally utilise its executive powers in the event of forming the next government.
As for the February 7 biennial elections, the Congress looks set to lose three seats that would bring down its tally to 69, while the BJP’s tally is likely to come down to 46, including the seat that had fallen vacant after the resignation of Maya Singh who successfully contested the Assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh. The Congress is, however, hoping to cover the deficit of three seats — through an Independent candidate from West Bengal, who is also being supported by the Left; another from Andhra Pradesh if its MLAs from Telangana region don’t switch loyalty to the TRS candidate; and, the third from Orissa if it manages to defeat the BJD-backed Independent candidate. The two seats going out of the BJP’s kitty include the one that it has given to its ally RPI leader Ramdas Athawale in Maharashtra. That included, the BJP will actually lose just one seat from its existing tally, which it hopes to make up by ensuring the victory of a joint opposition candidate in Assam.
The BJP had denied re-nomination to Prakash Javadekar to accommodate Athawale. It may be a long wait for Javadekar and many other Rajya Sabha hopefuls as the BJP is in a position to win just two seats — one each from Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka — out of 17 that would go to polls later this year. In 2015, there would be elections for eight seats stretched across J&K, Kerala and Puducherry, but the BJP does not have the numbers in these Assemblies to even open an account. For the optimists though, there would be two vacancies in the nominated members’ category in November 2015.
As for regional parties, the Trinamool Congress looks set to gain at least four more seats (excluding the one on which the Left and the Congress are backing an Independent candidate against the TMC candidate) taking the party’s tally to 13 in Rajya Sabha. The AIADMK will be another gainer with an addition of two seats that would take its tally to nine; the BJD’s tally would go up from six to seven. Among the losers will be the CPM whose tally would come down from 11 to nine and the DMK which would lose one bringing its strength in the House down to five.