The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government at the Centre may get a “working majority” in the Rajya Sabha this year itself, in fact inside the next few months. This is likely to pave the way for the clearance of pending bills, including the Goods and Services Tax (GST) Bill. A working majority in this case, as opposed to a complete majority, means that the ruling alliance will get support from non-NDA, non-UPA parties. As many as 56 current Rajya Sabha members from different parties, including the BJP, Congress, AIADMK and JDU, are due to retire in the next couple of months and will be replaced by new faces. Additionally, the government is likely to fill seven vacancies under the nominated members’ quota. Sources say that all this will change the existing composition of the Rajya Sabha inside the next few months.
Sources said that BJP leaders are talking to regional players so that they get “issue-based support” to ensure a “working majority”. “Our top leadership is in touch with Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee, AIADMK leader J. Jayalalithaa and BJD leader Naveen Patnaik. Besides, they are also trying to woo JDU leader Nitish Kumar. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s public display of camaraderie with the Bihar Chief Minister recently was a part of this move. No wonder, the JDU, which is opposed to the NDA, is not against the GST Bill in national interest,” sources said. The Centre has also included Orissa capital Bhubaneshwar on the list of cities to be developed as smart cities. This, according to sources, is a move on the BJP’s part to woo Patnaik.
The Rajya Sabha has a total strength of 245. However, the Upper House has eight vacancies at present—of seven nominated members and of one member from Rajasthan. Sources said since nominated members are appointed by the government, the new members are likely to support it as and when voting is required. The Rajya Sabha already has five nominated members, all of whom were brought to the Upper House by the UPA government—Anu Aga, K. Parsuraman, Rekha, Sachin Tendulkar and K.T.S. Tulsi. In all, the Rajya Sabha can have 12 nominated members.
The election results of Assam or West Bengal will not have any immediate impact on Rajya Sabha numbers, because no vacancy is arising from these states as of now. However, these states may affect the numbers’ game in the Upper House in the next one or two years. But then, in a state like Jharkhand, Congress may lose one member, Dhiraj Prasad Sahu, while BJP may gain one as the NDA is now in a majority in the state Assembly. The BJP already has M.J. Akbar from the state.
In Bihar, where five JDU Rajya Sabha members are retiring, the BJP is likely to gain in the changed composition of the state Assembly. The JDU and the RJD are likely to distribute four seats between themselves as the two are part of an alliance now.
Speaking to The Sunday Guardian, Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said: “We hope that our numbers will increase after the biennial elections, which are due soon. At the same time, the numbers of the Congress are likely to come down. We hope we will have some advantage in the Upper House after the elections and getting the bills passed there will be much easier.”
Naqvi also said that his party would like to negotiate with non-NDA, non-UPA parties to come on board with the government on issues of national interest. “We will try to have a working majority in the Upper House,” he added.
Some prominent leaders whose terms would get over in the next three-four months are Oscar Fernandes, M. Venkaiah Naidu, Sharad Yadav, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, Nirmala Sitharaman, Jairam Ramesh, M.J. Akbar, Suresh Prabhu, Piyush Goyal, Ram Jethmalani and Satish Chandra Mishra.
As of now, the total strength of the BJP in the Rajya Sabha is 47, whereas that of the Congress is 65. Congress numbers are likely to go down, while that of BJP will increase. “Although the BJP will not clinch a clear majority, whatever little gain it makes will be significant,” said a source.
The source said leaders like Venkaiah Naidu, Nirmala Sitharaman, Piyush Goyal, Suresh Prabhu, who are ministers in the Union Cabinet, might be given another term. He said a lot will depend also on the results of the ongoing Assembly elections in Tamil Nadu. If the AIADMK comes to power in Tamil Nadu, it will affect the AIADMK’s strength in the Rajya Sabha. As many as six vacancies are arising in that state this year. At present, three of the RS members retiring are from AIADMK, two from DMK, while one is from Congress. If AIADMK gets a decent number of seats, it is likely to increase its presence in the Rajya Sabha.
Rajya Sabha members are elected on the basis of an electoral college comprising MLAs of the state Assemblies and Union Territories in accordance with the system of proportional representation by means of a single transferable vote. The number of MPs a party can send to the Rajya Sabha depends on how many MLAs the party has in the Assembly.
Five MPs who retired in April have been replaced in proportion to their parties’ respective strengths in the state Assembly. So this will not have any impact on the current strength. Ashwani Kumar and M.S. Gill (both from Congress) were replaced by Partap Bajwa and Shamsher Singh Dullo. The Akali Dal, on the other hand, re-nominated Naresh Gujral and Sukhdeo Singh Dhindsa. The BJP replaced Avinash Rai Khanna with Shwet Malik.
Morgan Stanley, one of the largest foreign institutional investors, has pointed out in a recent report that the NDA will get adequate numbers in the Rajya Sabha to pass the GST Bill in 2016. The key to the bill’s passage is a reduction in the number of Upper House members opposing the bill. That number currently stands at 91. It needs to reduce to 82 for the bill to clear.