NDA closer to Rajya Sabha majority but BJP's core agenda may have to wait

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance is inching closer to the majority mark of 123 in the 245-member Rajya Sabha. It is set to be just half a dozen seats short of that mark by the middle of this month.

The majority mark, at least on paper, would elude it for another year but recent defections of four Telugu Desam Party and one Indian National Lok Dal members to the BJP indicates it could, if it so wishes, get to the mark sooner. "It could achieve it tomorrow," said Trinamool Congress MP Derek O'Brien. 

The BJP, however, is keener on increasing its own numbers rather than only looking at NDA numbers. The recent defections, the understanding with the Biju Janata Dal to support a BJP candidate from Odisha for the Rajya Sabha and two separate elections to two seats that have fallen vacant from Gujarat will all help the BJP increase its own tally.

This is because the NDA has had a ‘workable’ majority in the House for at least a couple of years now with members of key regional parties either supporting or staging a walkout to help the government pass bills.

But the problem the BJP faces was, and would continue to be mostly be with bills that relate to its ‘core agenda’, particularly any efforts to amend the Constitution, which requires a special majority that the government lacks, and would continue for some years to come.

More crucially, it remains uncertain how many of its allies and frenemies among opposition parties would be willing to support contentious bills, particularly those that relate to the BJP’s core agenda. The Triple Talaq Bill, which is not a constitution amendment bill, but is a case in point with ally Janata Dal (United) stating that it opposes it as do ‘frenemies’ Telangana Rashtra Samiti and YSR Congress Party.

As for a ‘workable’ majority, the AIADMK, with 13 MPs, had provided support to the previous Modi government in the House in the last couple of years either by staging a walkout thereby bringing down the strength of the House at the time of any vote or voting in favour. It is now officially a member of the NDA.

The Telangana Rashtra Samiti with six members and YSR Congress Party with two had also supported the government at key junctures during the previous Modi government, and the joining of the Nitish Kumar-led Janata Dal (United) with six MPs had boosted NDA numbers. 

Given the recent warmth in their relations, the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) with seven MPs is also likely to support the government at critical junctures. Of the three seats that have fallen vacant from Odisha, the BJP is set to get a member elected from Odisha with the BJD support when its Assembly strength did not allow for it.

However, with the BJP emerging as a significant opposition in Telangana and trying to strengthen itself in Andhra Pradesh, with TDP members joining the party, it would be presumptuous to think the TRS and YSRCP would continue to be as supportive of the government.

The difficulty the BJP faces is that it has only 76 MPs of its own, which would increase to 80 by the middle of the month. This is way short of the majority mark. Even with the support of its core ally the Shiv Sena, it would continue to be difficult for the Modi government to think of passing amendment bills more consistent with its core agenda, including the latest addition to the list of ‘one nation, one election’.

The TRS and YSRCP have already indicated they would be “equidistant” from the Congress-led opposition as well as the government. The possibility, as leaders in some of these parties have indicated, is that some of the regional parties become the driving force of the opposition strategy as the Congress continues to be in limbo. The TRS, YSRCP and Trinamool Congress leaders share a good rapport.

In his reply to the motion of thanks to the President’s address in the Rajya Sabha last week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said people have taught a lesson to parties which were obstructionist in the Rajya Sabha and appealed to them to be “less negative”.

It might not have been the PM’s intention but the opposition in the Rajya Sabha treated Modi’s comment as a left-handed compliment of them effectively doing their job of opposing the government. It was also an admission on the PM’s part that Rajya Sabha would continue to remain a concern for his government for some time to come.

Party Number of seats
NDA 111 (set to add another six)
UPA 64
Non-UPA, anti-BJP 44
Other opposition parties BJD 7, TRS 6, YSRCP 2, NPF 1
Total 235


Business Standard is now on Telegram.
For insightful reports and views on business, markets, politics and other issues, subscribe to our official Telegram channel