Much to the surprise of many leaders in the opposition, the Bharatiya Janata Party has overtaken the Congress party as the largest party in the Rajya Sabha. Soon after the BJP’s V.K. Samhita took his oath as a member of the Rajya Sabha from Madhya Pradesh on Thursday morning, the BJP’s numbers rose to 58 MPs while the Congress has 57. Samhita was elected in the by-election following the recent death of Union environment minister Anil Dave. The BJP is all set to get one more Rajya Sabha seat from Uttar Pradesh, following the resignation of BSP leader Kumari Mayawati.
According to BJP calculations, the Modi government will have a majority in the Rajya Sabha by April 2018, when the total strength of the treasury benches will be 126 MPs. This number includes the present NDA parties, those parties who are supporting the government from the outside and some more upper house seats which the BJP is expected to win in the months ahead.
If all goes to plan – thanks to some Congress MLAs abandoning their party – the BJP is hoping to defeat Congress stalwart Ahmed Patel and get an extra seat from Gujarat next week itself.
The NDA’s vice-presidential candidate M. Venkaiah Naidu on Thursday visited the central hall of parliament as part of his last minute campaign for the election scheduled for Saturday, August 5. Naidu is pitted against Gopal Gandhi, who was also seen in parliament visiting the various party offices there.
Venkaiah, on Wednesday, wrote an open letter to all the 750 odd members of both houses, cutting across party lines, requesting they vote for him and assuring them he would uphold the cherished values of the constitution in right spirit. On his part, Gopal Gandhi released a statement too. “In the larger arena of free choices, how free are we?,” he asked. “Are we free of fear? Are we free to choose our way of life, our forms of thought and expression? Are we free to tell off the bully and the bulldozer, in high office or the on the street corner? Are we free and able to tell giant industries to not pollute our rivers, our air, to not dump their toxic waste in our environment?”.
Meanwhile, the ruling NDA is preparing for the final showdown on Saturday and wants to ensure Naidu wins with a big majority. The BJP leadership has organised a meeting of all NDA MPs Friday evening at the G.M.C. Balayogi auditorium in the parliament house library building, which will be followed by dinner.
At the meeting of the NDA MPs, a drill will be conducted on how to vote. The leadership has decided to conduct this laborious exercise in view of the fact that 21 MPs’ votes were invalidated during last month’s presidential election.
Venkaiah Naidu is also holding a farewell lunch for the media on Friday. Photographs of the vice presidential hopeful standing amidst packed boxes has appeared and his wife and daughter have also visited the residence of vice president Hamid Ansari to see the inside of the spacious bungalow they hope to move in to. As one senior leader said, “It may have been more dignified if he had waited till at least the voting was over.”
The defeat of the BJP at the hands of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha appears to still rankle with the prime minister. While the attendance of BJP MPs in both the houses has been almost 100%, Modi shot off a letter to all his ministers asking that during parliament time they should operate from their offices in parliament house and not in the ministries.
It has so far been customary for ministers to attend question hour and then quietly make their way back to their ministry offices, where most of their staff sits. Parliament house has enough space to accommodate the ministers but most of them have been given rooms which are not being used. But now ministers have been ordered to stay put in parliament and take heed of the quorum bell and ensure no more such lapses take place.
After the Shiv Sena it is now the turn of Trinamool MPs to be angry at reports that MPs would not be allowed to vote till the prime minister has cast his vote in the vice presidential elections to be held on Saturday. They have now threatened to stand in queue from 9 am onwards even though voting is to begin only at 10 am.
Some interesting sights are expected in parliament on Saturday. Nitish Kumar’s party, the JD(U), will be voting for the opposition’s Gopal Gandhi while the chief minister’s new-old friends and partner, the BJP, would be voting for Naidu. Nitish Kumar had committed to supporting Gopal Gandhi before he broke up the Mahagathbandhan but he has decided to stand by his word.
Another man who is expected to be the focus of all political parties, friends and foes alike, is Ahmed Patel. The senior Congress leader and Sonia Gandhi confidante is expected to arrive in Delhi on August 5 from Ahmedabad, where he has been camping the past few days in order to salvage his Rajya Sabha seat, against the Modi-Shah duo.
AICC general secretary Digvijaya Singh is unhappy at having been dropped as the general secretary in charge of Telangana. The only state which remains with him now is Andhra Pradesh. It is learnt that he has written to Sonia and Rahul Gandhi asking to be relieved of all responsibilities, which means he no longer wants to continue as general secretary incharge of AP.
The former Madhya Pradesh chief minister is planning to go on a spiritual Narmada padyatra covering over 3000 kms and in the process touching 100 assembly constituencies in Madhya Pradesh and 20 in Gujarat. It will begin on September 30 and is expected to continue for many months. He has also vowed not to make any political statements during that time.
The Congress issued a three line whip to its members in the Rajya Sabha to be present on Thursday. There was surprise considering there was no bill listed but only a short duration discussion on China. When asked why, a senior Congress leader joked, “It is to ensure that everyone attends and listens to Anand Sharma”, who was the Congress party’s main speaker on China.
Unsure why the Congress issued a whip, the BJP followed suit and issued a whip to its members, who in any case are present in large numbers as a measure of abundant caution.
But while the day began well, the opposition benches were quite empty by the time Sushma Swaraj got up to reply to the debate at the end of a long day full of even longer speeches.