Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has cause to be “reasonably optimistic” about pushing key legislative business, especially the Constitution (122nd Amendment) Bill for the Goods and Services Tax (GST), in the Rajya Sabha this year.
In the aftermath of a disappointing Winter Session, when the Congress blocked the GST Bill, Jaitley maintained the government would be able to push it as “halfway through the next session, the numbers in the Upper House are going to change”.
The numbers suggest that if not during the Budget Session, there is certainly hope for the BJP in the Monsoon Session. In the 245-member Upper House, dominated by the Congress, 74 MPs will retire in 2016. The BJP and its allies, whose combined present strength is 63, may be able to add seven seats in the coming rounds of elections. This will take the NDA’s total to 70 seats in the Upper House.
Nominating advantage Additionally, five nominated MPs, including former Union Minister and Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar, are retiring this year. Usually, nominated categories are filled with eminent personalities favourably inclined towards the ruling dispensation.
The Congress’s depleted strength in the State legislature on account of heavy electoral losses in Rajasthan, Haryana, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Jharkhand will result in a loss of at least six of the 20 vacancies. The Congress’s strength will thus come down to 61 seats from 67 now.
Uttar Pradesh will have the maximum number of vacancies: 11. The Samajwadi Party is likely to retain a majority of these seats. While the Congress’s Satish Sharma is unlikely to retain his seat, the going looks equally difficult for Union Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, an MP from UP.
The BJP currently has 42 members in the 403-member UP Assembly and Naqvi’s re-election is only possible if he gets the superfluous votes after the SP and the BSP have secured adequate numbers for their candidates.
Karnataka, Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh will have four seats each. The Congress may get three and the BJP one in Karnataka. Parliamentary Affairs Minister M Venkaiah Naidu is an MP from Karnataka and retires this year. The BJP’s lone seat in Karnataka is sure to go to Naidu.
In Rajasthan, the Congress will have to be satisfied with just one seat. The party’s Deputy Leader in the Upper House, Anand Sharma, will have to struggle to retain his seat while there is no chance for the Congress’s other MP from Rajasthan, Ashk Ali Tak, to get another term.
In Andhra Pradesh, the TDP and the BJP will get all the four seats. Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, who retires this year, is likely to retain her seat from the State. Former Union Minister Jairam Ramesh, an MP from Andhra Pradesh who retires this year, may have to sit out for some time before his party can muster enough numbers to re-elect him to the Upper House.
Punjab will have seven vacancies. The SAD-BJP alliance is likely to get at least five of these seats. The Congress may be able to retain two, of which one is likely to be senior leader Ambika Soni.
Maharashtra boost Maharashtra, with six seats, will also give a big boost to the NDA in the Rajya Sabha. The BJP and its ally Shiv Sena can win at least four seats out of six. The Congress and the NCP may retain one each, of which, one will be former Minister Praful Patel. Tamil Nadu will also have six vacancies, but elections will be held only after the Assembly polls.
Bihar will have five openings and they will be distributed between the JD(U) and the RJD. Chief Minister Nitish Kumar will have a tough time because all the five retirees are from the JD(U) and he will have to part with at least two seats for the RJD.
It is a difficult choice as the retirees’ list includes JD(U) president Sharad Yadav, its spokesperson Pavan Varma, KC Tyagi, Ramchandra Prasad Singh, and Ghulam Rasool Balyawi. The latter two are likely to lose their seats to the RJD, which reportedly wants to send Lalu Prasad’s daughter Misa Bharti and wife Rabri Devi to the Rajya Sabha. That puts a question mark over Nitish Kumar’s reported bid to send his trusted aide Prashant Kishore to the Rajya Sabha. In this uncertainty, the Congress may lose the one seat it is hoping to get from Bihar.
Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and Kerala have three seats each. The BJP may get all the three in Madhya Pradesh, while the BJD will decide the winners in Odisha. In Kerala, since the Rajya Sabha polls precede the Assembly elections, the Congress may get two and the CPI(M) one.
Haryana, Jharkhand, Assam and Chhattisgarh have two seats each. Except Assam, all the others may favour the BJP. Telangana, Himachal Pradesh, Tripura and Uttarakhand will have a vacancy of one seat each. The ruling governments will easily retain these seats.