Heavy political jostling, back room bargaining and arm twisting have begun within political parties to gain — in many cases regain — a berth in the Rajya Sabha as 76 members of the Upper House are set to retire next year. Many big names could be out on a limb as the dynamics have changed after the assembly elections in several states.
The relative positions of the parties too will alter after the next round of Rajya Sabha elections is over. The Congress will be the biggest loser thanks to its poor performance in the state elections in the past few months.
The BJP is hopeful of making big gains but that will only be by the end of the next year and not by April 2016 when it hopes to tide over the deficit in the Rajya Sabha which will help it see through important bills in the Upper House. The Government is looking at persuading the AIADMK MPs in the Rajya Sabha to abstain, get some independents on board and fill in the 7 nominated category vacancies by April when it hopes to pass the GST bill. In which case it won’t require any support from the Congress.
The first to go would be the five of the remaining ten nominated members who retire in March 2016. They are Mani Shanker Aiyer, Javed Akhtar, B. Jayshree, Mrinal Miri and Balachandra Mungekar. It is the prerogative of the ruling party at the Centre to nominate members to the Rajya Sabha and in this category the names are sent to the President and then their membership is notified. Two nominated members—Ashok Ganguly and H K Dua– have already retired.
BJP gains in Rajasthan
In Rajasthan elections will take place in July with four members retiring but with the BJP having a huge majority in the assembly, it looks likely that the party will manage to get all of them. The Congress will get no seat from Rajasthan. Among its retiring members is the Deputy Leader of the Congress in the Rajya Sabha Anand Sharma who was nominated from the state. The Congress would need to bring him from some other state but the party’s precarious position in most state assemblies makes that rather difficult. Anand Sharma is eyeing Himachal Pradesh, his home state to return to the Rajya Sabha. There is one seat up for grabs as the BJP’s Bimla Kashyap Sood retires in April next year. The second Congress member retiring from Rajasthan is Ashk Ali Tak. He stands no chance of making a come back.
Other retirees from Rajasthan include the eminent lawyer Ram Jethmalani, who, though listed as an independent, had actually won on a BJP ticket. Also retiring is BJP MP V P Singh Badnore. Singh was picked up by Vasundhara Raje Scindia for a nomination to the Rajya Sabha and is likely to return, though Jethmalani would need to look for fresh pastures.
A number of union ministers are retiring in 2016, including Y S Chowdhary of the TDP and Nirmala Sitharaman, M Venkaiah Naidu, Piyush Goel, Suresh Prabhu, Chaudhary Birender Singh and Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi who is a member from Uttar Pradesh.
Venkaiah Naidu, who is an MP from Karnataka is not going to be elected from Karnataka but will have to be brought from Andhra Pradesh. But the BJP will have to ask Chandrababu Naidu to give them a seat as the TDP is set to win three out of the four seats in Andhra; the fourth will go to YSR Congress’s Jagan Reddy. Telangana will get only 2 seats after the division of the state. There are 175 assembly seats in Andhra Pradesh as against just 119 in Telangana. What is interesting is that Venkaiah Naidu will complete his third term and there is a buzz in the government on whether giving someone a fourth term in the Rajya Sabha would set a healthy precedent. San of now, though, his chances are good.
So where does that leave Union commerce minister Nirmala Sitaraman who was brought in as an MP in 2014 from Andhra Pradesh after she was made a minister in the Modi cabinet? She came in on a two year term that finishes next year. The Prime Minister would need to take her to another state, since it is unlikely that the TDP will give the BJP 2 out of its 3 seats.
The Congress will not get a single seat from either Andhra Pradesh or Telangana and those out of the House will include Jairam Ramesh, Hanumanth Rao and J D Saleem who are all retiring. It is learnt that Jairam Ramesh will have to sit it out and wait for better days as the party has little space to maneuver to to adjust him elsewhere.
In Bihar, the Congress again is unlikely to get any seat. All the 5 retiring members are from the JD(U) but it will now get only 2; the rest will go to RJD (2) and the BJP (1). The Congress has been pressing for seat in the House of Elders but has been offered an MLC and one in the Rajya Sabha in the next round.
Nitish Kumar’s dilemma
Nitish Kumar himself is in a bit of a tight spot as his Party president Sharad Yadav, Yadav’s right hand man K C Tyagi and party spokesman and former diplomat Pawan Verma are all retiring. To add to his woes his close confidant R P Singh and Gulam Rasool Balyami are also set to exit next year. He would need to do some major juggling to keep all sides satisfied.
Another Congress stalwart who is retiring is A K Antony from Kerala. He is the blue eyed boy of both Sonia and Rahul Gandhi. The Rajya Sabha election will be held after the state assembly polls, and much will depend on the results of the elections. Along with Antony, T N Seema of the CPI(M) is also retiring.
M J Akbar who has a knack of getting on the right side of those in command is the flavor of the season as far as both BJP President Amit Shah and Prime Minister Narendra Modi are concerned. Akbar, who was given a one year term by the BJP from Jharkhand is also retiring next year. But he is likely to be renominated. But another journalist, Chandan Mitra who is an MP from Madhya Pradesh may not be so lucky say sources within the BJP. Even though the BJP has the numbers in the state, Mitra is known to be close to L.K.Advani who brought him in as an MP to the Upper House.
In Punjab the Congress is again set to face a problem as three of its senior leaders are retiring including Ambika Soni, M. S. Gill and Ashwini Kumar. The Congress will get only 2 seats of the 7 that will open up. Ashwini Kumar had to resign as Law Minister in the UPA Government for his `polite` directions to the CBI is a favourite of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who pushes his case hard with Sonia Gandhi.The contenders for the other seat include Soni and Pratap Singh Bajwa who resigned recently as state Congress Chief and has been promised an honourable rehabilitation.
From Maharashtra Union minister Piyush Goel would be looking for a renomination, as would Praful Patel from the NCP along with Sanjay Raut of the Shiv Sena. Vijay Darda and Avinash Pande of the Congress and Ishwarlal Jain of the NCP are also retiring from the state. The Congress and NCP will each get one seat while the BJP and Shiv Sena between them will bag the remainder of the seats. Patel is likely to get the NCP seat though there is a long list of candidates from the Congress party from Sushil Kumar Shinde, to Gurudas Kamat to Mukul Wasnik along with the retiring nominated member Mungekar. He is an economist of repute but in the given situation the Congress may opt for a politician.
The flamboyant and bankrupt Vijay Mallya who contested as an independent with Deve Gowda’s support is retiring from Karnataka and is unlikely to make a comeback. Others retiring are Oscar Fernandes of the Congress, Aayyamur Manjunath and Venkaiah Naidu from the BJP. The Congress has space to accommodate some Rajya Sabha MPs but outsiders are not welcome as was obvious the last time around when P. Chidambaram tried hard to come into Parliament from Karnataka and was rebuffed.
Uttar Pradesh would have a total change since 6 BSP MPs are retiring including Satish Mishra(BSP), Satish Sharma of the Congress and Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi of the BJP Along with that that 3 MPs of the Samajwadi Party are retiring. After the change of government in the state, the tables are likely to be reversed. The BSP will now get only 2 seats with one going to the Congress, one to the BJP and the remainder to the Samjwadi Party which is set to be a big gainer.
Congress big loser
The Rajya Sabha has a total strength of 245 members, though currently there are three vacancies and the current strength stands reduced at 242 members. Two of the vacancies are of nominated members who have already retired and the vacancies have not been filled up and the third has been caused by the death of a sitting member from the Nagaland People’s front. The Rajya Sabha has a total of 12 nominated members who normally side with the party which nominates them to the Upper House.
At present the Congress has 67 members, the BJP 48, the Samajwadi Party 15, the AIADMK, the Trinamool Congress and the JD(U) 12 each, the BSP 10 and the CPI(M) 9. But after next year’s biennial Rajya Sabha elections the Congress will lose at least 7 members and the support of 7 nominated members by March next year. The opposition numbers could dwindle to a level where they may well be irrelevant in the House by this time next year, which will have long term political repercussions.