Unlike the Lok Sabha, where members are directly elected by the people, members of Rajya Sabha are indirectly elected by State & UT legislatures. Unlike the Lok Sabha, where all members retire at once (when the house gets dissolved), members of the Rajya Sabha retire every now and then. Typically, one-third of the members of the RS retire every two years. Also known as the House of Elders, the Rajya Sabha, in the words of Gopalaswami Ayyangar was supposed to be an ‘instrument’ to delay action on a hastily-conceived decision, through debates and discussions by ‘seasoned people with an amount of learning and importance’.
However, in these times of Kalyug that we live in, cooperation between the Government and the Opposition has become as unlikely as rains in Latur and hence it is party whip and not erudition and learning that determines outcome in the RS. Two years ago, the BJP stormed to power, winning 283 out of 545 seats in the Lok Sabha, making it the first time in 3 decades that voters had given clear majority to a single party. BJP’s entire election campaign was centered on Vikas and Acche Din under the leadership of Vikas Purush, Narendra Modi. Two years later, it turns out that the government has struggled to transact legislative business in spite of its brute majority in the Lok Sabha. The Land Acquisition Bill could not be passed and had to be withdrawn, the GST is still in the doldrums and noone is even talking about Labour Law reforms. There is a two-word answer to why the government has floundered with its reforms agenda- RAJYA SABHA.
Two years ago, when the Modi government was sworn in, the constitution of Rajya Sabha was such that BJP with 46 members and NDA with 64 members had lesser seats than even the Congress, which had 68 members on its own. The situation has only slightly changed since then. In 2014, UPA and allies held a total of 107 seats in the 250 member house, enough to embarrass the government at every step.
In fact, in a series of major embarrassments to Modi Sarkar, the opposition forced through an amendment to President’s address in both 2015 and 2016. The government fought a losing battle with the opposition in the RS. This is evident from the productivity figures of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. Monsoon Session of 2015 saw Lok Sabha work at 48% productivity, while Rajya Sabha worked at 9%. The Winter Session saw Lok Sabha productivity go up to 98%, while Rajya Sabha worked at a mere 50%. Lok Sabha worked at 121% productivity level , while Rajya Sabha worked at 91% during the 2016 Budget Session. There is no doubt that Government’s floor management also had a part to play in the government’s disastrous innings in the Rajya Sabha.
Fortunately, the membership of Rajya Sabha changes with time. As of now, BJP and its NDA allies are in power in 14 of the 29 states in the country. This is eventually bound to reflect in the constitution of RS. In this year itself, a total of 76 members are set to retire, with Congress set to lose most members. Vacancies in Rajya Sabha will arise in Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Chhatisgarh,Haryana, Himachal, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala,Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Nagaland, Odisha, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Tripura, Uttarakhand, UP and 5 nominated members.
Of these, BJP can expect a respite from Haryana, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Rajasthan. TDP members from Andhra Pradesh can add to NDA’s kitty. Chattisgarh, inspite of a BJP government will essentially deliver a status quo in terms of members it sends from BJP and the Congress. Assam, in spite of polls that indicate a BJP government getting formed, the outgoing assembly will elect members for the Rajya Sabha, implying an advantage to the Congress. In Karnataka, the BJP will lose an existing seat to the Congress given power equation in the assembly. Kerala, as always, is unlikely to send BJP members to the Rajya Sabha, unless it springs a surprise in the upcoming polls. BJP can expect no seats in Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Odisha etc., where it is not even in the contention. All in all, it is likely that the BJP will see an increase of merely 4 seats in the RS, pushing its tally to 53 members. Congress is expected to come down to 59 seats.
However, BJP had also recently nominated 6 members to the Rajya Sabha, following the retirement of nominated members. This will also bolster the ruling party’s strength in the Rajya Sabha. Union ministers- Nirmala Sitharaman, Piyush Goel, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi,Venkaiah Naidu, Birender Singh and Suresh Prabhu who are also due to retire from RS, are expected to be re-elected as fresh members.
2016 in Rajya Sabha will see the Congress’s domination of the house weaken a bit. While Congress and its allies will still continue to hold sway on more seats, BJP and NDA allies will inch ever closer to the number held by the Congress and UPA.
However, one must expect no change in the functioning of the Rajya Sabha. Given that the government will continue to be on a weak wicket, disruptions will continue to be the order of the day.
In fact, given the recent loss in Bihar, it is impossible for the BJP/NDA to control a majority of seats in the Rajya Sabha even in 2019. The best case scenario of the Saffron party will be a role reversal with the Congress/UPA, i.e. controlling around 100 members in the Rajya Sabha in 2019. Modi Sarkar, therefore, will have to devise ways and methods to work around the Rajya Sabha quandry. That having been said, it is likely that changes in Rajya Sabha in the coming days might make it more amenable to passage of crucial items such as GST. Undoubtedly, that will require some deft floor management from the Government’s side. All having been said, How long will the voters accept RS as an excuse to reforms being stalled remains to be seen.