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Losses in states to prove a hurdle in BJP's quest for Rajya Sabha majority

The series of losses it has suffered in states in the last 12-months, including most recently in Maharashtra, has meant that numbers will continue to be a problem for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the Rajya Sabha in 2020. It also means that the Narendra Modi government will have to rely not only on its allies, such as the AIADMK, but also on regional parties, like the Biju Janata Dal, to ensure the passage of key legislations.

The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance is still short of the majority mark in the Rajya Sabha and is unlikely to cross this until November 2020, when 11 seats from Uttar Pradesh fall vacant in the Upper House.

The BJP-led NDA's lack of majority meant that it had to reach out to such regional parties as the Biju Janata Dal (BJD), Telugu Desam Party (TDP), YSR Congress Party and some of the small parties to ensure the passage of the contentious Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in the recently concluded winter session of Parliament.

It will continue to need to do so for the most part of 2020.

Here is why.

The BJP-led NDA is close to the two-thirds mark of 362 in the Lok Sabha. A two-thirds majority of those present and voting is necessary for the passage of Constitution Amendment Bills.

The recent losses in the states have meant it is unlikely to achieve this target in the Rajya Sabha in the current tenure of the Modi government. However, this does not factor in the switch over of MPs from other parties to the BJP, as has recently happened in the case of Samajwadi Party and TDP.

The Rajya Sabha has a strength of 245. It will have elections to 74 of its seats in 2020. This includes filling of five current vacancies, one nominated member in February, 51 in April, six in June-July and 11 in November.

It is in these elections that the BJP’s recent losses in the states would cost it seats in the Rajya Sabha. While it has consolidated its government in Karnataka after the wins in assembly by-polls there, Maharashtra has slipped out of its hands.

The BJP has had to strike an uneasy alliance in Haryana, and awaits the results of the ongoing Jharkhand Assembly polls with some nervousness.

The Lok Sabha 2019 elections aside, where it won a comfortable majority, the BJP has lost several of its state governments during the past one year. It lost the states of Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh in December 2018.

It was never expected to win in Telangana and Mizoram. Of the four Assembly elections held simultaneously with the Lok Sabha polls, the BJP retained Arunachal Pradesh. It was not expected to perform any miracles in Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and Sikkim. And it didn’t.

The five vacancies are: two in Assam and one each from Bihar, Odisha and Haryana. Apart from Assam, the BJP might not get its members from the other three states. The Nitish Kumar-led Janata Dal (United) wants the seat from Bihar for its candidate. The Jannayak Janata Party (JJP), the BJP’s ally in Haryana, also wants Rajya Sabha representation.

In February, nominated member K T S Tulsi retires. He was appointed during the Congress-led UPA years. Of the current 12 nominated members, as many as eight have already joined the BJP in the Rajya Sabha, and Tulsi’s replacement could too to bolster BJP numbers. The BJP is currently at 83 seats in the Rajya Sabha.

In April, 51 MPs retire. These include seven from Maharashtra, six from Tamil Nadu, five each from West Bengal and Bihar, four each from Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh, three each from Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Odisha, two each from Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, and Telangana and one each from Assam, Manipur, Haryana, Meghalaya and Himachal Pradesh.

Of the seven from Maharashtra, the BJP currently has one MP, while two more – RPI(A)’s Ramdas Athawale and an independent – were elected with its support. The Shiv Sena has one MP in Rajkumar Dhoot, while the Congress has one and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) two.

From the NCP, its chief Sharad Pawar is set to return, while Majeed Memon is unlikely to. However, the BJP will struggle to keep its three seats, given the Sena-NCP-Congress alliance in the state.

From Bengal, four of the five seats are with the Trinamool Congress, and the fifth with a Trinamool-supported independent. The scenario is set to be repeated with the Trinamool likely to support the Congress for the fifth seat.

Of the six from Tamil Nadu, it remains to be seen how many the AIADMK spares for its ally BJP. A couple of seats will be won by the DMK-led alliance, which comprises the Left parties, Congress and others.

In Bihar, of the five set to retire, all are from the BJP-JD(U) alliance, including Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairman Harivansh. Of these, three belong to the JD(U) and two to the BJP. The alliance would lose at least one seat to the Rashtriya Janata Dal-Congress alliance.

Of the four seats from Gujarat, three are with the BJP and one with Congress. This tally is likely to remain the same.

The BJP’s losses will come in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. Eight MPs will retire from these three states. The BJP currently holds Rajasthan’s three seats set to fall vacant. With a Congress majority in the Rajasthan Assembly, the BJP will lose at least two.

In Madhya Pradesh, the BJP holds two and Congress one. This could now reverse, with the BJP losing at least one seat. Of Chhattisgarh’s two seats falling vacant, the BJP and Congress share one each. The BJP would lose both given the Congress sway in the Chhattisgarh Assembly.

Of the Jharkhand’s two seats, the BJP and RJD share one seat each. The fate of these will depend on the result of the Jharkhand Assembly polls. Of Telangana’s two seats, the BJP and Congress hold one seat each and both would lose.

Of the four Andhra Pradesh seats, the Congress currently has two and Telangana Rashtra Samithi and Telugu Desam Party have one each. It is likely that all four will now go to the ruling YSR Congress Party.

Of the three seats set to fall vacant from Odisha, two are with the ruling Biju Janata Dal and one with the Congress. The BJP can get a seat if the BJD supports its candidate.

Where the BJP will gain in April is a seat each from the Congress that are falling vacant from Haryana and Himachal Pradesh.

Of the five seats falling vacant in June, four are from Karnataka and one from Arunachal Pradesh. The BJP will wrest the Arunachal seat from the Congress. Of the four Karnataka seats, two are with the Congress and one each with the JD (S) and BJP. The BJP will increase its tally here.

If by June, the BJP will compensate for whatever losses it suffers in April in the Rajya Sabha polls, its real gains will come in November. As many as 11-seats from Uttar Pradesh fall vacant in November.

Of these 11, the Samajwadi Party currently holds four, the BJP three, the Congress and Bahujan Samaj Party two each. Given its numbers in the UP Assembly, the BJP could win all but one of these seats, gaining seven seats.

The BJP, currently at 83 seats in the Rajya Sabha, can hope to reach the 100-seat mark by 2020. However, it will still be short of the 123-seat majority mark on its own in the Rajya Sabha. It would continue to need the support of its allies AIADMK, JD (U), Shiromani Akali Dal, some of the independents and smaller parties to reach the halfway mark to ensure passage of bills.


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