Electing Rajya Sabha Members: What actually counts for Political Parties and their Leaders ?

India

oi-Dr. Sandeep Shastri

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Published: Monday, June 6, 2022, 8:27 [IST]

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Whenever Rajya Sabha elections are round the corner, there is often a focus on both the candidates sponsored by parties as well as the role played by the Rajya Sabha as the Upper House of the Indian Parliament. The Rajya Sabha seats are distributed across the states of India.

We are once again in Rajya Sabha elections season! Across the country, political parties have been busy working out strategies on how to ensure the election of a maximum number of candidates from their party. In many states, there will be no formal contest, as the number of nominations filed is equal to the existing vacancies. Karnataka is one of the exceptions in this regard as six candidates have filed their nominations for four seats. A research contest is clearly unfolding in the state. One can expect many a unexpected twist and unanticipated turn in the coming few days.

Electing Rajya Sabha Members: What actually counts for Political Parties and their Leaders ?

Whenever Rajya Sabha elections are round the corner, there is often a focus on both the candidates sponsored by parties as well as the role played by the Rajya Sabha as the Upper House of the Indian Parliament. The Rajya Sabha seats are distributed across the states of India. While the population of the states is a factor, the smaller states have been assured of at least one seat. The concerned state assembly elects the Rajya Sabha members from that state. There are also twelve members of the Rajya Sabha nominated by the President.

If one looks at the profile of elected members of the Rajya Sabha, a few trends are clearly visible. Firstly, the party in power at the Centre, often use the Rajya Sabha route to bring in those who are member of the Council of Ministers or likely to be inducted into the ministry. Secondly, senior leaders of political parties who were either defeated in the last Lok Sabha elections or preferred to avoid direct elections are selected by to represent them in the Upper House. Thirdly, Rajya Sabha nomination has also been a route chosen by party leaders to reward loyalists. In recent times, those from the world of business have also found a place in the Rajya Sabha.

At the national level, two clear trends have been noticed. Firstly, nearly two thirds of Rajya Sabha members have been single term members. This implies that after their one term, members are often not re-nominated by the party. Secondly, a pattern noticed especially in the last two decades (since 2002) is that close to one fourth of the Rajya Sabha members are former Lok Sabha members. Former Lok Sabha members accounted for less than one of very ten Rajya Sabha members prior to 2002.

The national trend as outlined above is also true of Karnataka. Among those recently elected to the Rajya Sabha Karnataka, two prominent names have been former Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda veteran and Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge, both of whom lost the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

In the current round of elections, the national pattern visible in Karnataka too. India’s Finance Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman is one of the BJP candidates from Karnataka. Soon after she entered the Union Council of Ministers headed by Narendra Modi in 2014, she was elected to the Rajya Sabha Andhra Pradesh. Later in 2016, she was elected to the Rajya Sabha from Karnataka and is now seeking a second term from the state. Film actor Jaggesh is the second BJP candidate, who is contesting the election for the first time. He replaces the retiring BJP member KC Ramamurthy, who was first elected in 2016 on the Congress ticket. He resigned his seat in 2019 and joined the BJP and contested the by-election and won as a BJP candidate as in now his term. The Congress has nominated Jairam Ramesh as one of its candidates. Ramesh is three Sabha terms in the Rajya, having been elected first in 2004 for two terms from Andhra Pradesh and then in 2016 from Karnataka. Nirmala Sitharaman, Jaggesh and Jairam Ramesh are likely to have a smooth sailing in this election as their respective parties have sufficient votes in the Legislative Assembly to get them elected.

The real contest is for the fourth seat. All the three major players in the State – BJP, Congress and the JDS have put up candidates. None of them has enough surplus votes to win this fourth seat on their individual strength. Thus, this fourth victory will require the candidate (and the supporting party) to be able to secure support beyond their party. All three parties appeared to have formulated a strategy in mind while choosing their candidates. The JDS has chosen a former Rajya Sabha member and real estate magnate, Kupendra Reddy. The Congress fielded a candidate from the minority community Mansoor Ali Khan, who is considered close to Siddaramaiah. BJP has fielded its MLC and former state treasurer Lehar Singh Siroya. This victory will reflect the undercurrents between the three major political parties and the skills of the candidates to win support beyond across party lines.

The Rajya Sabha contest raises yet another important question. Does the Rajya Sabha membership reflect the efforts of political parties to represent the state they are elected from. Ideally, in a federal system like ours, the Upper House of Parliament, as its names indicates – the Council of the States, is a forum to articulate the interests and position of the States. Given the trend that is evident in the way political parties nominate their candidates, one is not too sure whether this role of the Rajya Sabha is actually being kept in mind. It seems more a House to bring in senior leaders of the party who are or need to be made Ministers. Alternatively, it is to accommodate party leaders who have been unable to get elected to the Lok Sabha. Rajya Sabha membership is also often seen as a reward for loyalty to a party/leader. Finally, especially when it is a keenly contested seat, the skills of the candidate to secure support beyond the party become the crucial factor.

As a result, the role of the House as a second chamber, upper house or a council of states is truly lost sight of. It becomes principally a platform for political accommodation. A sad commentary on the state of our political institutions. ‘

(Dr. Sandeep Shastri is an keen student of Indian politics. Dr. Shastri is a researcher on politics for the last four decades)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of OneIndia and OneIndia does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

Story first published: Monday, June 6, 2022, 8:27 [IST]

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