Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr | RS polls: A chance to wean out old-timers, dissidents?
Deccan Chronicle.| Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr
Politics of fairly high stakes are being played out by various parties in choosing candidates for the Upper House
Political leaders, especially those in power at the Centre, want the Rajya Sabha to simply rubber-stamp all that the Lok Sabha passes without any scrutiny. (Representational Image/ AP)
The Rajya Sabha elections for 57 seats to be held next Friday, June 10, has shown the jostling for space in a new light. The Samajwadi Party’s decision to back Kapil Sibal, the Supreme Court lawyer and a famous Congress dissident till a few months ago who is contesting as an Independent, as well as Rahstriya Lok Dal president Jayant Chaudhary instead of Akhilesh Yadav’s wife Dimple Yadav; or the BJP deciding to support media baron and Independent Subhash Chandra, or another media owner from Haryana, Kartikeya Sharma, reveals the thinking of the party bosses, whose hands could be tied much more in a Lok Sabha or a state Assembly election by caste and regional factors. Akhilesh Yadav has shown a spirit of generosity, which is part of a good political strategist. In the case of the BJP, the move to support Mr Chandra seems to be the tactic of torpedoing the chances of a Congress candidate.
The Rajya Sabha election has also turned out to be a way to offer space for talented individuals who can speak out but who do not stand much of a chance in a popular election. So, we have the BJP renominating finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman and commerce, industry and railway minister Piyush Goyal, and the Congress picking former finance minister P. Chidambaram and former environment minister Jairam Ramesh to go to the Rajya Sabha. The BJP sent Jyotiraditya Scindia to the Rajya Sabha when the Congress could not because of internal party tussles, and in the bargain Mr Scindia’s exit from the Congress with his followers brought the BJP back to power in Madhya Pradesh.
So, politics of fairly high stakes are being played out by various parties in choosing candidates for the Upper House.
The Narendra Modi government over the last eight years had been rather frustrated by the lack of a majority for the party in the Rajya Sabha. It is only now that it has secured the numbers and therefore has the privilege of being in the majority in both Houses of Parliament. It will thus not be dependent on other parties to get various bills passed.
However, the focus of interest in this year’s Rajya Sabha elections has been on how the Congress would deal with the unrest in party, as the people who became dissidents and who led the G-23 were members of the Rajya Sabha, including Ghulam Nabi Azad, Anand Sharma and Kapil Sibal. Mr Sibal has found his way back with the help of Akhilesh Yadav in Uttar Pradesh. There had been speculation that Mr Azad and Mr Sharma might also be accommodated. But it was not to be so. The Gandhi family’s seal of disapproval is evident in the denial of tickets to Mr Azad and Mr Sharma, who had functioned as leader and deputy leader of the party in the House. It can only be speculated that the Congress has now closed the chapter of dissidence by snubbing Mr Azad and Mr Sharma. But dissidence has a way of raising its head, and the Gandhis can’t hope to have completely ended it, especially when the party is not in power in the vast majority of states in the country, and it is in a bad shape in both Houses of Parliament.
What is the message that the BJP is sending by not renominating the long-time Muslim in the party, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, minister for minority affairs? The BJP has shown that it doesn’t have to play the Congress card of accommodating a member of the religious minority, and that it can win elections without a Muslim. It has proved so in the last two Lok Sabha elections. It appears that by dropping Mr Naqvi, it is almost declaring that it is a party only of the majority community. And it also seems to believe that the interests of the Muslim community can be served by other communities, a dangerous trend despite its apparently benign intent.
However, the BJP is very sensitive on the representation of Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs) and Other Backward Classes (OBCs). It tried to attract members of these groups as a way of establishing its foothold in these segments in the country at large.
Former Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje Scindia, a senior BJP leader in her own right, was supposed to have found a place in the Rajya Sabha list, but did not. This is being read as a snub. This time around the party is looking to find a new chief ministerial face for the Assembly election in Rajasthan next year and, given Mr Modi’s penchant to look for surprise replacements, Ms Scindia stands to lose out. Mr Modi’s style has been a ruthless one of dropping the old guard and picking new ones. So, as part of this policy, Prakash Javadekar, who has had a good run in New Delhi since he came in 2003 from Maharashtra, seems to have come to a dead end as well, along with Mr Naqvi. So has been Dr Vinay Sahasrabuddhe, chairman of the Indian Council of Cultural Relations (ICCR), and a man with strong RSS connections. Mr Modi is looking for ways of minimising the presence of not just the old-timers but also the upper castes as part of his social engineering, which has been an ongoing process in the party for decades, something that former BJP ideologue Govindacharya had championed in the 1990s. Mr Modi seems to be quietly, and often not so quietly, bringing forward SCs, STs and OBCs. The RSS has been doing this for a long time, and Mr Modi, like a good RSS preacher, is carrying forward the evangelical work with greater zeal.
Given the populist propensities of most political parties, it seems that they find the Rajya Sabha a useful place, but they fail to recognise its constitutional importance as a "House of Elders", which is meant to keep a critical eye over legislation passed by the Lok Sabha. Political leaders, especially those in power at the Centre, want the Rajya Sabha to simply rubber-stamp all that the Lok Sabha passes without any scrutiny. But unintentionally and unconsciously, they send members to the Rajya Sabha who perform a critical role without saying so, though very rarely do bills passed by the Lok Sabha actually get sent back to the Lower House for reconsideration.
The author is a Delhi-based commentator and analyst