Rajya Sabha Polls: Indirect Process, Direct Involvement, and “Last Resort” Politics
Elections for 57 Rajya Sabha seats in 15 states are scheduled for June 10. The results will be announced the same day. These polls have been scheduled because 57 members of Rajya Sabha are retiring.
But effectively, polls will only be held for 16 seats in four states of Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Karnataka and Haryana after 41 seats were declared unopposed on June 5 because no one else s was arguing there.
When Lok Sabha elections are held, all adult Indian citizens have the right to vote to choose the party or coalition that will lead the country. Although Rajya Sabha’s polls are indirect, in which Members of Legislative Assemblies (MLAs) vote, they have crucial policy implications.
THE RAJYA SABHA
The Lok Sabha (lower house) and the Rajya Sabha (upper house) are the two houses of the Indian Parliament. Currently, the Rajya Sabha has a sanctioned membership of 245 MPs. Of these, 233 are elected from states and union territories (UTs). The President of India appoints the others in the fields of art, literature, science and social services. India’s vice president is the upper house speaker Rajya Sabha who also has a vice president.
THE ROLE OF RAJYA SABHA
One of the essential roles of Parliament is to make laws. And no bill is considered law until it has been passed by both houses before being sent to the President of India for his assent. The idea behind the Rajya Sabha is to ensure richer debates, with the participation of experts from various backgrounds, before bills are approved or disapproved.
But many mainstream politicians (like Jayant Chaudhary of the RLD this time) are also contesting the biennial Rajya Sabha elections when no Lok Sabha elections or Assembly polls in their states are expected to take place soon. Some national leaders do not challenge Lok Sabha polls, often because they are not mass leaders, and parties send them to the Rajya Sabha. This is because the parties believe that they should be part of the central government.
Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and late BJP leader Arun Jaitley belonged to this category. Or when the parties feel that their presence is necessary during parliamentary debates and proceedings. Former Congress leader Kapil Sibal (an Independent supported by the Samajwadi Party) is an example this time.
RAJYA SABHA POLLS
Lok Sabha MPs serve a five-year term. They are elected simultaneously. The Lok Sabha is dissolved when national elections are announced. But the Rajya Sabha is never dissolved. As in the case of the Lok Sabha, each state is allocated Rajya Sabha candidates based on its population. Its deputies are elected by the deputies for six years. Since a third of them retire every two years, polls are held to fill their vacant seats. In the event of death, disqualification or resignation, partial ballots are organised. A member selected to fill such a vacancy shall serve the remainder of his predecessor’s term.
THE VOTING PROCESS
One would think that if one party has more MPs than others, its Rajya Sabha candidates will definitely win. This is not necessarily the case. Voting in Rajya Sabha’s polls follows a principle of proportional representation and a single transferable vote system to ensure only the majority does not dictate the process. Here’s basically how it works.
- The vote of each deputy is counted once. But MPs don’t vote for every seat.
- Instead, they should list different candidates in order of preference.
- If a sufficient number of voters choose a candidate as their first choice, he is elected.
- The remaining votes go to the following candidates, but with a lower value. Thus, MPs also vote for candidates from other parties.
- But MPs must show their ballots to an authorized officer of their party to check cross-votes. Independents do not have to show their ballot.
The elections take place before the presidential elections which will be held in July. The President of India is elected by an electoral college made up of both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha MPs, as well as state and UT MPs from Delhi and Pondicherry. Thus, the Rajya Sabha polls will have an impact on the presidential elections.
Numbers in the Rajya Sabha are also crucial for the government to make laws. In this context, the Rajya Sabha elections hold another key. Prime Minister Modi’s government has talked about laws such as the Uniform Civil Code. A good show in the Rajya Sabha elections could prompt the Center to propose a bill to Parliament. In 2019, the BJP performed well in the Rajya Sabha polls and opted for the Citizenship Amendment Act and the repeal of Section 370 of Jammu and Kashmir.
If one looks at the names of the 41 names already elected unopposed, it will become clearer as to the direction future events may take. The winners include 11 from Uttar Pradesh, including eight from the ruling BJP, one from the Samajwadi party and the RLD and Kapil Sibal, an independent.
Winners also include six from Tamil Nadu (DMK 3, AIADMK 2, Congress 1), five from Bihar (BJP 2, RJD 2 and JUD 1), four from Andhra Pradesh (all YSR congresses), three from Madhya Pradesh (BJP 2, Congress 1) and Odisha (all 3 BJDs), two each from Chhattisgarh (both Congresses), Punjab (both PAAs), Telangana (both TRS) and Jharkhand (JMM 1, BJP 1 ) and a candidate from Uttarakhand.
The stakes are high for the remaining 16 seats. And the dangers of cross-voting are so much so that ‘seaside resort politics’ is back stock. Examples: About 70 MPs from the ruling Congress in Rajasthan were sent to a beach resort in Udaipur. The BJP has chosen Jaipur as the location to ward off poaching attempts. Haryana Congress MPs have been moved to a hotel in Raipur, Chhattisgarh. The Shiv Sena plans to relocate its deputies to a five-star hotel in the western suburbs of Mumbai. For the BJP, the location would be the Trident Hotel in Mumbai.