Rajya Sabha math poised for a makeover

New Delhi: The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is expected to increase its strength in the Rajya Sabha as one-fourth of the 245 seats in the Upper House are scheduled for polls next month. While the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) is likely to increase its tally, it could still fall short of a majority.

Electoral wins of the NDA in the last four years are now set to be reflected in the Upper House as the BJP is likely to gain seats from Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Haryana, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan and Jharkhand—states it rules. At present, the BJP has 58 members of Parliament (MPs) in Rajya Sabha, while the NDA as a whole has 82.

“Rajya Sabha has been an area of concern for the BJP-NDA combine for a long time, especially after coming to power since 2014 Lok Sabha elections. The gains in Rajya Sabha would definitely provide the much-needed respite for the BJP because we would now have more numerical strength against the Congress and other opposition parties in the Upper House, which would help us put forward our point emphatically,” said a senior BJP leader, who is also a member of Rajya Sabha.

The Election Commission (EC) on Friday announced elections to 58 Rajya Sabha seats due to retirements and another seat on a casual vacancy, to be held on 23 March. Of the 58, the top three states in terms of the number of seats are NDA-ruled—Uttar Pradesh (10 seats), Bihar and Maharashtra (six each). Five seats each are from Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal followed by 4 seats each from Gujarat and assembly poll-bound Karnataka. Three seats each are also vacant from Telangana, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan.

The BJP leader quoted above argued that while the party has been the single-largest in Rajya Sabha since August last year, many important bills, including one to ban instant triple talaq and another to provide constitutional status to the other backward classes commission have not been cleared by the Upper House.

“The two bills are important for the government and also for the party and there is a deliberate attempt by the opposition parties to delay and block the two bills. Electorally, the BJP under Prime Minister Narendra Modi has done well in the last four years and this electoral strength would now be visible in Rajya Sabha,” the BJP leader added.

Although the BJP is expected to lose a couple of seats in Gujarat and one in Bihar, it is confident of winning at least eight seats in Uttar Pradesh, one in Uttarakhand, one in Rajasthan, two in Jharkhand and one in Haryana.

Another state where the BJP is expected to do well is Maharashtra but the Rajya Sabha polls could also reflect the ongoing tussle between the BJP and its alliance partner Shiv Sena. BJP leaders point out that if the alliance works together against the opposition parties— Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), it would further benefit the NDA.

These Rajya Sabha polls could reduce the Congress party’s tally by a few more seats. Opposition unity in the Upper House could face a blow with Samajwadi Party losing a massive share from Uttar Pradesh. It would be a key test of whether the opposition is able to field a common candidate in some seats against the BJP.

A senior Rajya Sabha member from Congress said, “In a state like Gujarat, BJP will lose a seat or two to us. It is fact that BJP and its allies are in power in a lot of states and hence, its slow dominance in Rajya Sabha is on expected lines. While in the next round of election the bench strength in the House will tilt in the favour of BJP, it is not going to totally change its composition.”

The leader, requesting anonymity, added that it was too early to discuss the issue of fielding common opposition candidates in some seats.

The polls will be notified on 5 March. The last date for filing nominations is 12 March, scrutiny will take place on 13 March and the last date of withdrawing nominations is 15 March, according to the EC. Both polling and counting of votes will take place on 23 March.

Political analysts feel that while the upcoming Rajya Sabha polls would be advantageous for the BJP, they would also be symbolic in view of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and assembly elections in Karnataka, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh later this year, since there would be a direct contest between the BJP and Congress.

“The Rajya Sabha polls are a step in the direction to gain numerical advantage and strength in Rajya Sabha, giving the government greater control against the opposition. It will be relatively easier for BJP to collaborate with other political parties and it may sober the opposition parties,” said N. Bhaskara Rao, a New Delhi-based political analyst.livemint