Why NDA’s minority woes in Rajya Sabha won’t end till 2019

The winter session of Parliament started on Nov. 26. Opposition buoyed by a poor showing of BJP in Bihar polls, is all set to corner the government on a host of issues ranging from rising intolerance to rising pricing of essential commodities. The fate of the important GST Bill hangs in balance, if government wants to implement it from 1st April, 2016, then it has to be passed in this session.

A Paradoxical Situation – NDA Majority in Lok Sabha, Minority in Rajya Sabha

BJP led NDA, which got a thumping majority in Lok Sabha polls held in May 2014, where NDA won 335 / 543 seats and UPA only 63, got a rude shock in Parliament when most of its major bills got stuck in the upper house where it is in a minority. It had to take the ordinance route for important bills like Land Bill and Insurance Bill. In Rajya Sabha, NDA strength is only 63 / 245 seats while UPA has 88 members.

While in Lok Sabha, NDA accounts for 62% of seats, in Rajya Sabha it’s just the opposite, UPA and anti-NDA parties’ account for 59% of the seats. This makes carrying on the proceedings of Rajya Sabha much tougher. Every bill passed by Lok Sabha has to be passed by Rajya Sabha as well and here NDA is seen struggling. While NDA accuses UPA and other regional parties of blocking the development agenda, opposition accuses NDA of not taking into account their suggestions. Both sides have put the responsibility / blame of the functioning / non-functioning of the House on the other.

% of MPs in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha

  1. JDU is considered as part of UPA as it is sharing power with Congress in Bihar. Also NCP.
  2. AIADMK and Biju Janata Dal are considered as pro-NDA parties. This can be debated. However, these parties have made a conscious effort not to be on the side of Congress in the past decade.
  3. Nominated members in Rajya Sabha have been classified as neutral.
  4. Anti-NDA parties include regional parties like SP, BSP, Trinamool Congress, CPM, CPI, DMK, AAP, JDS, TRS, SDF.

Details about Rajya Sabha Membership

Rajya Sabha members are elected by the representatives of the state assemblies. They are elected for a tenor of 6 years and 1/3rd of these members retire every two years. As selection of RS members is based on proportional representation in state assemblies (very simply put), the party which is in government in the state is able to send majority of the RS MPs elected from the state (assuming no cross party voting).

To win a Rajya Sabha seat, a candidate should get a required number of votes. That number (quotient) is found out using the below formula.

Quotient = Total number of seats in state assembly divided by (Number of Rajya Sabha seats + 1) + 1.

For example, 5 RS seats in Bihar are due for elections in 2016. There are 243 members in assembly and UPA (Maha Gathbandhan) have 178, NDA 58 and Others have 7 seats. Number of required votes to win a seat is 243/6+1=41.5. Since NDA has 58 seats, one of its candidates will be able to get 41.5 votes and NDA will manage to win 1 and UPA 4 seats (assuming no cross votes).

Why is NDA in a minority in Rajya Sabha?

The below graph explains why NDA is in minority in Rajya Sabha. Top 12 states account for 173 seats (71% of total strength). Out of these only 5 states are run by NDA governments accounting for 62 seats (26% of total seats). NDA doesn’t have a single MLA in Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Kerala. The loss in Bihar (decline of MLAs from 91 to 58) has acted as a setback to its efforts to gain majority.

Total Rajya Sabha Seats in Key States & % of NDA MLAs in these states

Is this likely to change in the near term?

Without a majority both in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, NDA will not be able to implement its agenda. All hopes of NDA and its supporters hinge on the fact that NDA will be able to increase its strength in the upper house when existing members retire and seats come up for re-election.

154 Rajya Sabha MPs are expected to retire in the next 3 years (2016:75, 2017:10, 2018:69) before the next LS polls in 2019. The highest number of MPs are retiring in UP (21), Maharashtra (12) and West Bengal / Bihar (11 each). Out of these retiring MPs – 43 are from NDA, 48 from UPA, 44 from anti-NDA parties, 7 from pro-NDA parties, 7 nominated and 5 independents.

State wise Rajya Sabha MPs due for retirement in 2016-18

What complicates matters further is the fact that 14 big states (excluding small North eastern states) will go for polls in these next three years – Assam, W. Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala (2016), UP, Uttarakhand, Goa, Punjab, Gujarat (2017) and Karnataka, MP, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan (2018). The selection of the new Rajya Sabha members would also depend to a certain extent on who forms the new government in these states. NDA is not in contention in 3 states W. Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. 3 states MP, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan go to polls in Dec. 2018 and will not matter who wins as the elections to the RS seats will happen before that.

154 MPs are due for retirement in the next three years, 43 from NDA. 20 NDA MPs are due to retire after 2018. According to Politicalbaaba research, gains of NDA are expected to come from Maharashtra (+5), Andhra Pradesh (+1), Assam (+1), Goa (+1), Jharkhand (+1), W. Bengal (+1), Odisha (+1), Rajasthan (+3). NDA expected to lose 1 seat each in Karnataka and Telangana. Even if BJP wins Uttarakhand, Goa, Punjab, Gujarat, Himachal and Karnataka it won’t impact much the seat position in RS as majority of the MPs retiring from these states already belong to NDA. This takes NDA tally to 75. If it wins Uttar Pradesh then it can bag additional 5 seats, taking the NDA tally to 80.

Likely position before country goes to polls in Lok Sabha 2019 is expected to be as follows:

Source: politicalbaaba.com

Along with pro-NDA parties, NDA is expected to have 95-105 seats. Against this UPA and anti-NDA parties are likely to have 125-135 seats. So, NDA will continue to remain in minority in Rajya Sabha till next LS polls. If BJP fails to manage pro NDA parties like AIADMK and BJD, then its position in Rajya Sabha will further weaken.

No respite from this logjam, NDA has to get used to this and accept it as a fact of life. Of course there will be frustration but this is a learning for NDA, winning LS is important but as important is winning state elections. They have lost Bihar. They should try to retain BJP ruled states due for elections in next three years and win Assam Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh. Also try to improve and win seats in TN, WB and Kerala.

Though, it’s not likely to make a big difference in the near term, it will at least build a foundation in the long term if it manages to win again in 2019 and help to win more seats. 39 seats from these states will be up for grabs in 2019-2021 period and BJP currently only has 2.

To sum up, BJP needs to (i) retain the states in which it is in power (ii) win states which are due for elections in the near term (iii) improve its performance in states it is weak and (iv) engage with regional parties / opposition and try to build consensus on important economic reforms.

This article was originally posted at DailyO.

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