New Delhi: Thanks to its spectacular performance in Uttar Pradesh, the Bharatiya Janata Party has come within striking distance of an absolute majority in the electoral college that will choose India’s next president in July. Even if the arithmetic sum is still short of the 50.1% mark, the formidable political stature of Prime Minister Narendra Modi that the recent election has reinforced will afford him all the leeway he needs to get the support of smaller parties across the country for the candidate of his choice.
“With the latest numbers and the scale of his win in UP, Modi has changed the way that parties other than the Congress and the Left will relate to him,” an official attached to the Rajya Sabha secretariat told The Wire. “Even if he decides to send an RSS man to Rashtrapati Bhavan, he will be able to do so quite comfortably.”
In the final analysis, BJP and its allies have improved their tally in the electoral college by around 53,000 votes despite reverses suffered by them in Punjab and Goa.
Before the Assembly elections 2017 had got underway, the BJP and its National Democratic Alliance allies – with approximately 42% of the votes – were 91,658 votes short of the magical figure of 549,441 needed to win the electoral college which has a total of 10,98,882 votes.
BJP wants its own leader in the top post
With the term of President Pranab Mukherjee expiring on July 25, the first major impact of these assembly polls will be on the outcome of the next presidential election. It is widely believed that BJP would like to install a candidate of its own choice at the highest seat of power in the country.
The office of Vice-President Hamid Ansari would also fall vacant in August, when he would complete his second five-year term. The electoral college for the vice presidential election consists of the members of both the Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha where, even by the current configuration, the NDA has a simple majority.
Many believe the party would like to push for a candidate from within its ranks for the top post, while accommodating a leader from one of its allies as a vice-president. The names doing the rounds for the post of president right now include those of former Lok Sabha speaker Sumitra Mahajan, UP governor Ram Naik, external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and even Dalit leaders like academician Narendra Jadhav or social justice and empowerment minister Thawarchand Gehlot. There is also a possibility of one of them being pitched for the post of vice-president. Another major candidate for the post of vice-president could be Shiromani Akali Dal leader and former chief minister Prakash Singh Badal, or BJP leader Venkaiah Naidu.
But more than the names, the focus right now is on the numbers. And considering that the BJP has added a large number of seats to its kitty in UP and Uttarakhand it is now much better positioned to push its candidates for the post.
This is so because about 53,000 votes have been added because of the latest gains. The electoral college works on the principle of a weighted vote where the vote of every state legislator is equivalent to the population of the state divided by the number of elected legislators divided again by 1,000.
How the electoral college works
The president is elected by the members of an electoral college that comprises elected members of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha and elected members of all legislative assemblies. The total value of votes of the MPs is 5,49,408 while the total value of votes of all 4120 MLAs across India is 5,49,474.
Therefore the value of each vote of the 543 Lok Sabha and 233 Rajya Sabha MPs is 708 (549474/776). The value of the votes of MLAs on the other hand varies from state to state. In India, it is the highest in Uttar Pradesh at 208 and lowest in Sikkim at 7.
Apart from UP, among the other states which went to polls this year, the value is 116 in Punjab, 64 in Uttarakhand, 20 in Goa and 18 in Manipur.
As such, the BJP, which won 312 seats in UP this time as against 47 in 2012 has, along with its ally Apna Dal (which won 9 seats) and the Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party, which won four seats, improved its electoral college votes in Uttar Pradesh by 57,824. Its votes have also increased by 1,600 in Uttarakhand where its tally increased by 25 from 31 in 2012 to 56 this time. The party has also gained in Manipur where it did not have any seat in 2012 but has this time won 18 seats. With a value of 21 votes for each seat, it has gained 378 votes.
Setback for BJP in Punjab
The biggest setback for BJP has been in Punjab where its own tally reduced by 9 from 12 in 2012 to just 3 this time. The loss has been accentuated by SAD decline in the state. It managed to win only 2 seats as against 15 last time. So in all BJP and SAD together have lost 50 seats this time and their electoral college votes have thus decreased by 5800. Similarly, in Goa BJP has lost 160 electoral college votes as the number of its seats in the Assembly has reduced by 8 as it has managed just 13 this time.
Thus, the net tally of BJP and its allies has increased by 53,842. It is still a little short of the levels which would have made the NDA feel comfortable. Before the Assembly elections 2017, BJP had nearly 3.80 lakh votes in the presidential electoral college and with its allies having about another 1 lakh it still needed another 70,000 to reach the 5.49 lakh vote mark.
With the BJP still short of the required number of electoral college votes by around 2%, it needs to get the remaining numbers by reaching out to favourably disposed regional parties like the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), which on account of its 50 seats in Parliament (37 in Lok Sabha and 13 in Rajya Sabha) and 135 MLAs in Tamil Nadu assembly has a total of 59,160 vote value in the electoral college.
This is where the seemingly unassailable position of Modi comes in. Had he lost the UP election, securing the support of smaller parties would have been difficult and the presidential race might well have become wide open. Now, most parties other than the Congress and the Left will be reconciling themselves to the fact that the BJP is well-placed to return to power nationally in 2019 and will be recalibrating their attitude towards the saffron party accordingly.
Impact on BJP’s strength in Rajya Sabha
While the impact of the results of the 2017 assembly elections will be felt immediately in the presidential polls, they would also have a bearing on BJP’s strength in the Rajya Sabha.
As on date, the biggest party in the Rajya Sabha is the Congress with 59 seats, followed by BJP with 56, Samajwadi Party 18, AIADMK 13, Trinamool Congress 11, Janata Dal (United) 10, Telugu Desam Party and Bahujan Samaj Party 6 each, and the Nationalist Congress Party 5.
However, the strength of the ruling party in the upper house can only grow as seats fall vacant on completion of the 6-year terms that MPs there enjoy. So it is not before late 2018 that a significant change would be felt in Rajya Sabha, when the tenure of 10 MPs from Uttar Pradesh and one from Uttarakhand would end. With the tenure of four Rajya Sabha MPs from Gujarat and one from Himachal Pradesh also ending in 2018, the outcome of the assembly polls to these two states later this year would also be crucial in determining the affiliation of the MPs that those states will send.
2018 would also mark a watershed in Rajya Sabha numbers as the tenure of five MPs from Madhya Pradesh, four each from Karnataka and Rajasthan and one from Chhattisgarh will also end the same year. With the BJP in complete majority in all these states barring Karnataka, it would hope that the year would provide it a greater say in the Rajya Sabha and help it push its legislative agenda. Though it would still have to wait a long time to get a majority in this house, the political headroom the UP win has given Modi will allow it to take greater liberties with parliamentary procedure – something it has already done to get the Enemy Property Ordinance passed in the upper house last week.
Note: This article was edited to correct to the total value votes received by the BJP and it’s allies in UP and Punjab.