The outcome of the recent round of elections for 75 Rajya Sabha seats offers significant political insight into lay of the land in India’s states and at the Centre, and highlights the institutional paradoxes at the heart of India’s bicameral Parliamentary system.
Take the political fallout and four of its features. The first is a confirmation of what has been known since 2014. The BJP fights to win; it fights even when the existing arithmetic would suggest restrain may be better than valour; its aggressive politics exposes the underline contradiction within opposition ranks and puts other parties on the defensive; and it is willing to use every political and institutional tool at its disposal to achieve this victory. This play book helped the party get a third candidate elected in both Maharashtra and Karnataka (where it had enough legislators for two seats when contest started), and enabled the victory of an independent candidate in Haryana. It set out yet another message of the BJP’s political dominance and will continue to give the party not just numerical but also a psychological edge in the upper house.
Two, BJP forced struggle when it came to the seats on the margin. The Shiv Sena—Congress-NCP alliance in Maharashtra appears stable, but there is enough room in the state for the BJP to push back. The Congress in Haryana has a problem of abundance at the top (even as its footprint on the ground dominances) and the inability of all its senior leaders to get together has cost the party yet again. In Karnataka, the gulf between Congress and Janata Dal (secular) did not just help the BJP in this round, but will give the party an advantage as the states head for poll next year despite the clear governance deficit of the current state administration headed by BJP.
Three, Rajasthan offered a lesson to the non-BJP end of the political spectrum on how to take on the national hegemony. And once again — like the late Ahmed Patel has shown in the Rajya Sabha elections in Gujarat in 2017 — it was the Congress’s old guard that delivered. A rooted and aggressive (Ashok Gehlot), who micro managed every legislator and monitored voting on a minute to minute basis, was able to secure the election of the third congress candidate and foil the BJP’s plan of getting an independent elected. This was also the state where the gulf within the BJP — a party that otherwise is able to enforce discipline — once again hurt its political ambitions. But while the election has implications for the internal power struggles underway in both congress and BJP in the run upto the 2023 assembly polls, any larger conclusions from this episode about how the election will plan out will be premature.
And finally, the BJP will continue to have an edge in pushing through its legislative agenda in the Rajya Sabha along with its visible and invisible friends (regional parties which claims to oppose BJP but mysteriously end up backing it on every crucial vote). It will also give the party a cushion for the Presidential elections in July. Remember, this was not given when the party lost a string of state assemblies or saw a reduced presence in these assemblies in the last few years. (IPA Service)