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Modi 2.0: Lok Sabha in grasp, but Rajya Sabha may remain elusive for now

A view of Parliament House, in New Delhi. Photo: PTI
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) -led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) is returning to power with a huge mandate in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. It has won 352 of the 542 Lok Sabha seats for which elections were held. The BJP alone has taken 303 seats in the lower House of Parliament.

With the Opposition decimated again, there is a renewed hope for major policy changes taking place in the coming five years. On the policy front, the Narendra Modi government is placed comfortably with a strong political approval from voters in its second term. But it may still find itself a bit hamstrung when it comes to making changes to laws. While some changes could be made by executive decisions, others would need parliamentary approval. In the upper House of Parliament (Rajya Sabha), the NDA can at present count on the support of 102 of the 244 members. The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) has 66 members in the Rajya Sabha, while other partied account for the remaining 76.

The Rajya Sabha, or the council of states, represents a federal check on the powers of the Union government. In this House, representatives look after the interests of their respective states in policy or law formation by Parliament. States elect their members through their legislative Assemblies for a tenure of six years each. It is this reason that makes state Assembly elections important for major political parties. It gets them influence in law-making beyond the directly elected Lok Sabha members. It is by constitutional design that this influence in the Rajya Sabha is both elusive and drawn over a long period of time.

The BJP’s improved performance in the state Assembly polls since 2012 handed it major power across states, but it also faced setbacks in states where it held power previously. While its biggest gain was made in Uttar Pradesh in 2017, it suffered losses in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. It also lost Assembly seats in Gujarat which will eventually affect its ability to send Rajya Sabha members from the state.

Can the NDA get a majority in the Rajya Sabha anytime soon?

2019: Seven seats of the Rajya Sabha will be up for grabs in the year 2019 — two in Assam and five in Tamil Nadu. While the BJP will gain 2 seats in Assam, its ally All India Anna Draviva Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) will lose one in Tamil Nadu. So, the NDA’s net gain of Rajya Sabha seats in 2019 will be 4, while the UPA’s tally will decline by one seat.

 

2020: It is year 2020 when the NDA could hope to make substantial gains in the Rajya Sabha. During this year, 72 Rajya Sabha members will be elected by 22 states. And one member will be nominated. So, a total of 73 new members will reach the upper House.

If we assume that the nominated member will be from the NDA, the alliance’s tally could increase by 11 Rajya Sabha seats, taking its total to a tentative 114. This is tentative because 11 of the 72 seats up for re-election in 2020 will be in the states of Haryana (2), Jharkhand (2), and Maharashtra (7). Of these, 5 are sitting UPA MPs. We cannot make predictions about these seats as the states go to the polls before the seats going for re-election. If the NDA is able to retain its numbers in these states, it will end 2020 with 114 MPs while the UPA would be left with 63.

The major gains for the NDA in 2020 will come from Uttar Pradesh, where it is expected to make net gains of 8 Rajya Sabha seats, thanks to its landslide victory in the state in 2017.

 

2021: Eight seats will be up for grabs in 2021. These will be from Jammu & Kashmir (4), Kerala (3) and Puducherry (1). The NDA currently holds 2 of these seats. It will be difficult to make predictions for the likely outcome at the end of the year, as both J&K and Kerala will go to the polls before these Rajya Sabha members are elected. The new members will be elected by new state Assemblies.

 
2022: The year 2022 will be big with respect to electing Rajya Sabha members. Through the year, as many as 76 seats (including 2 nominated members) will be filled. The biggest chunk of these will come from the state of Uttar Pradesh (11 seats). On its present standing in the UP Assembly, the BJP would have won most of these seats. But that could not be predicted accurately, as the state would elect a new Assembly before these Rajya Sabha members are elected.

A similar story would play out in Punjab, which is to elect 7 Rajya Sabha members, but only after a new Assembly is formed in the state.

Conclusions

The BJP’s success in state Assemblies over the past seven years and the huge mandates in its favour both in 2014 and 2019 have made it the dominant political party in the two Houses of Parliament. A comprehensive majority for it in the Rajya Sabha, however, would remain elusive at least until 2022. Will the new central government be able to bring fundamental changes to laws or the Constitution itself? The BJP might try, but the results would depend on its ability to accommodate dissenting views in the Rajya Sabha. The federal design of the Constitution, which gives states a veto on some matters, might continue to hold sway over the NDA’s legislative actions for some more time.

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