In the wake of two historic mandates, one for the Lok Sabha and one for the Delhi Assembly, it seems appropriate now to take a pause and look at the situation in terms of its relevance in the Great Indian power-play, for we are now conclusively out of the murk and haze of pre-result speculation.
The Indian voter came out in record numbers in 2014 to give the BJP a stunning electoral victory over the Congress. The era of coalition politics was clearly over, the voter had decided that if a government were to exist, it must be a majority one.
Policy paralysis had hurt the people more than it was supposed to, we must remember that there is a reason behind the powers granted to the opposition; they exist as a check to the ruling party, but the policy of the then NDA-led Opposition to oppose and stall every policy of the UPA led to an ineffective parliament. It was not UPA policy that hurt the voter, but a lack of it due to policy paralysis. The NDA as an opposition ensured the UPA could do nothing in its final years, and the NDA in power today enjoys the lack of a role reversal.
Modi NDA as an opposition ensured the UPA could do bills unhindered in the Lok Sabha. With the Congress in shambles across the country and refused even the role of Leader of the Opposition, the BJP government seemed unchallenged in the political spectrum initially.
This changed with the Winter Session of Parliament, when the Rajya Sabha showed its teeth in the wake of the Ghar Vapsi conversion row, Minister Sadhvi Niranjan’s hate speech and a general opposition against the proposed Insurance Bill. The Parliament was hung, and the government was forced to take the ordinance route to get bills passed. Ordinances, however, are temporary, and if the BJP wants its bills to be passed, they will need a greater level of debate in the Rajya Sabha. It is no Lower House that they can strong-arm into agreement through numbers.
The Rajya Sabha, as we are taught in high school, exists as a check to the Lok Sabha. The BJP and its allies are outnumbered in the Rajya Sabha, and are expected to remain so until the end of its term in 2019. The Upper House, which has the power to stall or amend non-money bills, sees its members refreshed by a third every two years.
As the BJP starts to win its way into State governments, it will slowly gain the ability to put its people into the Upper House. But this process takes time, and requires the six year tenure of former ministers to expire. By design, the Rajya Sabha prevents a government that wins a sudden majority from enjoying an unopposed legislation across the country. To win the Rajya Sabha, they will need steady representation in the states across the years, something only a rational vote can gain, not a wave based on emotion. It is an inherent feature of the Indian parliament that prevents the rise of authoritarian regimes.
A quirk in the electoral process means that only Delhi’s ruling party gets to decide who they nominate for the Rajya Sabha. The current batch of ministers from Delhi includes Janardan Dwivedi, Parvaiz Hashmi and Karan Singh, all of whose terms expire in 2018.
So come 2018, AAP too will exist in the Rajya Sabha, with 3 seats. The only other state approaching elections in 2015 is Bihar, with Kerala, Puducherry, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Assam going to polls in 2016. These states make up for 67 seats in the Rajya Sabha, and a BJP success is a murky bet in many of them.
The unofficial Opposition to the BJP in the Rajya Sabha tallies at least 132 seats, including members of the INC, TMC, JDU and CPM amongst others, vs 60 of the NDA and its allies.
What these numbers mean is that the balance of power in the Rajya Sabha is unlikely to shift much until 2019 and the end of this government’s tenure. With the AAP’s decimation of the BJP in Delhi showing that the Modi wave is not unending, the future of the Rajya Sabha remains in the hands of the opposition. Modi will not be able to pass bills without debate.
Many who celebrate the Delhi mandate today are cheering BJP’s defeat more than AAP’s win. Some celebrate out of hate for the BJP, some out of a sense of solidarity for the coughing man in the muffler, and a few cheer the fact that Indian democracy will always balance itself. For the fear-mongers who felt a majority government for the BJP would be a fascist one, they need only turn to the Constitution to see its checks and balances acting in place.
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Read a Feminist Critique of the Delhi Elections here: http://bit.ly/1zurb41
Read about Kejriwal’s Oath-taking ceremony on February 14 here: http://bit.ly/1E7jvJa