Efforts are on to woo “fence sitters” such as the Biju Janata Dal (BJD), the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) and the YSR Congress, for the election of the Deputy Chairman of the Rajya Sabha next month. These three parties together have 17 votes in the Upper House. The election is necessitated by the retirement of the current Deputy Chairman, P.J. Kurien on 30 June. This could prove to be the next battleground of the NDA and the Opposition, with both sides wooing the “undecided”. The current strength of the Rajya Sabha is 245. However, with four nominated members set to retire before the monsoon session, the effective strength will come down to 241. Either of the two sides will require the support of 122 members to win the election.

While the Opposition has 117 votes, if TDP, a former NDA ally, is included, the BJP and its allies have 115 votes, including that of independents, nominated members and that of the AIADMK, which is not a part of the NDA but has supported it in the past.

Since the government’s and the Opposition’s numbers are evenly placed in the Upper House, effort is being made by both sides to pick a consensus candidate. According to sources, the Congress, which “sacrificed” its claim to the Chief Minister’s post in Karnataka in favour of smaller ally, JDS, is ready to repeat the formula in Rajya Sabha as well and may support a consensus candidate from the united Opposition ranks.

Sources said Congress leaders are in touch with the BJD and the Trinamool Congress (TMC) to back a consensus candidate. The BJD has nine votes, while the TMC has 13. Sukhendu Shekhar Roy’s name is doing the rounds as the prospective candidate from the TMC camp. The BJP, on the other hand, is also trying to woo the BJD, the TRS and the YSR Congress of Andhra Pradesh. The recent meeting between BJP president Amit Shah and Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackery fuelled speculation that the BJP may offer the post to the Sena.

At present, BJP is the leading party in the Upper House with 69 members, while Congress has 51 members. The Opposition numbers include three Rajya Sabha vacancies that will be filled from Kerala by the end of June.

Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao of the TRS has been giving mixed signals. He has been talking about forming a non-BJP, non-Congress federal front. But at the same time, he skipped the much hyped swearing-in function of H.D. Kumaraswamy in Bengaluru. Sources said, if the united Opposition fields a non-Congress candidate, he may support that candidate.

The BJD, on the other hand, is maintaining equidistance from the BJP and the Congress. Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik too skipped the Bengaluru swearing-in function and had supported the BJP on many occasions. The YSR Congress too has not revealed its plans.

This week, the Congress in Kerala faced a revolt after the party decided to give up a Rajya Sabha seat to the Kerala Congress (Mani), a regional ally which had left it two years ago. This clearly means that Kurien will not get another term.

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