Why big-bang legislative reforms may have to wait despite BJP’s win in state polls
Photo Credit: Reuters

In the past week since the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won a staggering 312 out of the 403 seats in Uttar Pradesh, much has been made of how it could spur Prime Minister Narendra Modi to unleash a wave of hard-hitting economic reforms.

Yet, to carry forward his agenda, Modi needs numbers, especially in the Rajya Sabha, where his party is in a minority.

There is little doubt that the BJP’s resounding success in Uttar Pradesh and the smaller states of Uttarakhand and Manipur does embolden Modi politically. But a quick look at the numbers shows that it may not help him push through reforms in areas such as labour and land acquisition or wade past the legislative logjam that has stalled several important bills in parliament at least for another year.

While the BJP enjoys a clear majority in the Lok Sabha, it is the second-largest party in the 245-member Rajya Sabha with 56 seats; the Congress has 59 members. The Samajwadi Party, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the Trinamool Congress with 18, 13 and 12 members, respectively, round up the top five parties in the house.

Unlike the Lok Sabha, which, in the normal course, is dissolved every five years, the Rajya Sabha is a permanent body. Every Rajya Sabha member is elected for a six-year term and a third of the sitting members retire every two years. So, the BJP can only improve its numbers in the house as and when sitting members retire.

As many as 10 members from Uttar Pradesh and one each from Goa and Uttarakhand will vacate their seats in August 2018. This includes Bahujan Samajwadi Party chief Mayawati, whose party came a distant third in the assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh, winning just 19 seats. If all goes well for the BJP, the party should be in a position to win these 12 seats, becoming the most dominant force in the upper house.

Further, five members from Madhya Pradesh, four each from Rajasthan and Karnataka and one from Chhattisgarh, will vacate their seats next year. The BJP is in a majority in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, which means it could possibly add 10 members to its tally. In Karnataka, the Congress is in a majority, so that could be a tough one for Modi’s party.

Yet, even with 78 seats by the end of 2018, it will still be way short of the simple majority mark of 123. This effectively means that the party will still need to look at others to pass contentious pieces of legislation in the upper house.

Apart from these states, the tenure of as many as four Rajya Sabha members from Gujarat and one from Himachal Pradesh will also come to an end in 2018. Now, these states go for assembly elections later this year, and the BJP will hope to do well to shore up its numbers further, if only to dominate the upper house beyond 2019.

Even if the BJP gets all these five seats (assuming it wins these states and does so handsomely), it will have 83 members by the end of 2018. But by that time, the party will be gearing up for the general elections of 2019, and it may find it inexpedient to take tough calls, rendering its clout in the upper house useless, at least for the current term.

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