Tricky Rajya Sabha Polls Await BJP In 2022
Narendra Modi and Amit Shah arrive for the BJP’s Central Election Committee meeting. (Photograph: PTI)

Tricky Rajya Sabha Polls Await BJP In 2022

BloombergQuintOpinion

Recent losses and setbacks in state elections are likely to halt BJP’s rapid rise in the Rajya Sabha. U.P. election outcome next year is key.

The Bharatiya Janata Party has charted a phenomenal rise in the Upper House of Parliament after being elected to power in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. It won state after state riding on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity from 2014 to 2017. This has led to a doubling of its tally in the Rajya Sabha. It has benefitted largely at the expense of Congress whose tally has reduced to half during the same period.

However, since late 2018, BJP has suffered a few setbacks losing Madhya Pradesh (briefly), Chhattisgarh, and Rajasthan to the Indian National Congress, losing Jharkhand to the JMM-Congress alliance, and recording a decline in its tally in Maharashtra and Haryana. This is likely to have a bearing on the Rajya Sabha election due next year.

The terms of 74 Rajya Sabha seats conclude in 2022. That is close to 30% of the Upper House strength of 245. These elections will be held across 20 states. Five states account for nearly half of these seats: Uttar Pradesh (11), Punjab (7), Maharashtra (6), Tamil Nadu, and Madhya Pradesh (5 each).

Current Strength

BJP has 93 seats while Congress has 35 members in Rajya Sabha. 14 seats are currently vacant and a simple majority in the House is 116. The NDA has 111, a near-majority. Regional parties like the Biju Janata Dal, Telangana Rashtra Samithi, and Yuvajana Sramika Rythu Congress Party have provided issue-based support to NDA lately and helped BJP in passing crucial bills in the Parliament.

The term of a Rajya Sabha member is six years. One-third of its members retire in a block of two years.

Rajya Sabha Election Format

Elected members of state legislative assemblies participate in voting to elect Rajya Sabha MPs. Parties normally win seats in proportion to their strength in the state assembly.

To win a Rajya Sabha seat, a candidate should get a required number of votes, called ‘quotient’.

Quotient = (Total number of seats in State Legislature) divided by (Number of Rajya Sabha seats for which elections are being held + 1) + 1

For example, 2 seats are due for polls in Assam in 2022. The assembly strength is 126. For a candidate to win, he / she requires 43 first preference votes {(126 / (2+1)} + 1. The NDA has won 75 seats and UPA 50 in the recently concluded Assam elections, with 1 seat won by an independent. Since only 43 votes are required by a candidate to win, both NDA and UPA can win a seat each, assuming no cross-voting.

Polling for a Rajya Sabha election is held only if the number of candidates exceeds the number of vacancies. Since the strength of each party in the Assembly is known, it is not difficult to estimate the number of seats a party would win in the Rajya Sabha poll.

In many states, parties avoid a contest by fielding candidates factoring in their strength. Where an extra candidate enters the fray, voting becomes necessary. Cross-voting is common in such situations.

Voting is done by a single transferable vote, as the election is held on the principle of proportional representation. This is to avoid the principle of majority, which would mean that only candidates put up by ruling parties in the respective states will be elected.

Likely Outcomes In States Where Assembly Math Is Clear

Out of the 74 Rajya Sabha MP terms coming to an end, BJP has 30 (incl 4 nominated), Congress 14, and regional parties 28. 2 members retiring are nominated members not affiliated to any party.

In Assam, as we have seen above, BJP and Congress are likely to win 1 seat each. Congress thus could lose one seat here from its previous tally. In Himachal, since BJP has the highest number of MLAs, it is likely to wrest one seat from Congress. In Tripura too it is likely to gain a seat from the Communist Party of India (Marxist).

In Kerala, the status quo is likely to be maintained with LDF retaining its 2 seats and UDF its 1 seat. In Odisha, Naveen Patnaik’s BJD is likely to retain all its 3 seats.

In Andhra Pradesh, BJP has 3 MPs retiring in 2022, these are essentially ex-TDP members who had crossed over to the saffron party after the 2019 general election results. BJP has zero MLAs in the house. All 4 Rajya Sabha seats up for election in the state are likely to be won by Jaganmohan Reddy’s YSRCP. In Telangana, TRS is likely to retain both seats.

In Chhattisgarh, due to the rout faced by BJP in the 2018 state elections, it is likely to lose one seat to Congress, and the grand old party is likely to win both seats that will be up in 2022. In Madhya Pradesh status quo is likely to be maintained.

In Tamil Nadu, 5 seats are up for re-election. AIADMK could lose 2 seats and DMK could gain 2 as MK Stalin’s party has swept the polls recently held in the state. In Karnataka, out of the 4 seats in contention, Congress and JD(S) can win one seat each if they form an alliance, BJP will then be just able to retain its 2 seats.

In Maharashtra, the Maha Vikas Aghadi is likely to gain 1 seat at the expense of the BJP. The three-party alliance of NCP, Shiv Sena, and Congress can win 4 out of 6 seats up for re-elections.

It is in Rajasthan that the BJP is likely to suffer the biggest loss in the Rajya Sabha elections of 2022.

BJP currently holds all 4 Rajya Sabha seats due for re-elections in Rajasthan. However, following its defeat in the 2018 state elections, it is likely to retain only 1. Congress is likely to gain 3 seats.

In Bihar, the victory for NDA in the 2020 state elections was narrower than its previous strength. This would help the UPA gain 1 seat here. Status quo for BJP.

In Jharkhand, where BJP lost the 2019 state elections, it is expected to lose 1 seat to the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha. In Haryana, it is likely to hold onto its 1 seat, but the seat currently held by a BJP-backed independent is likely to be won by Congress which put up an improved show in the state polls.

The 2022 State Assembly Election Stakes

There are 19 seats—11 in Uttar Pradesh, 7 in Punjab, and 1 in Uttarakhand—up for re-elections next year where state assembly elections are also due. The results of these state polls will determine the outcome of these seats.

In Punjab, BJP currently has 1 MP. In all likelihood, it will lose this seat whatever be the results as the party is not in contention in the state polls after its alliance with the Akali Dal ended.

In Uttarakhand, Congress may lose 1 seat it currently holds if it loses the state elections. The big contest is in U.P. as it has 11 seats for re-elections with BJP currently holding 5 of these.

Two scenarios for these election-bound states have been considered:

  • Parties are able to hold onto their current tally in Rajya Sabha in these states (status quo).
  • Incumbent parties win a simple majority in state elections; meaning, BJP retains U.P. and Uttarakhand, and so does Congress in Punjab, but with reduced majorities.

BJP’s tally in these 74 seats due for elections next year is likely to reduce by 5-6 seats under the two scenarios. If the party loses in UP, then its tally could dip further.

Factoring The Vacancies

Dates have not been announced for polling for the 14 vacant seats. Some of these may be held sometime during this year or even together with next year's Rajya Sabha polls. There is no also clarity on what happens to the 4 J&K seats that were due for polling, as reorganised union territory currently does not has a legislative assembly.

When polling is held for the vacancies (excl J&K), BJP’s ally AIADMK can win 1 seat in Tamil Nadu while the other 2 could be bagged by DMK. BJP and its allies can win the lone vacancies in Assam and Bihar. Trinamool is likely to win both the seats in Bengal, while CPM is likely to win the one vacancy in Kerala.

BJP’s tally is likely to be 88-89 seats after filling in the vacancies and the elections for members whose terms end in 2022. Its allies could also lose a seat. The exodus of long-time NDA allies like Shiv Sena and Akali Dal, losses, and reduction in its tally after recent state elections, is likely to put a brake on BJP’s ascendancy in the Upper House.

The Picture In The Run Up To 2024

In the following year, 2023, only 10 Rajya Sabha seats are up for elections – Goa (1), Gujarat (3), and West Bengal (6). BJP has 4 seats of these 10. The Goa and Gujarat state election results of 2022 will determine the outcome of the 2023 round of Rajya Sabha polls. BJP could lose a seat in Goa or Gujarat if the 2017 performance is repeated, and win a seat in Bengal. So net-net, no change in position in 2023 as well. Even if the 5 newly-elected nominated members join the BJP, then also its tally is likely to be at most equal to the current tally.

So it comes down to one pivotal factor. The BJP’s performance in Uttar Pradesh is key to maintaining its current tally in Rajya Sabha till the 2024 general elections. If it wins big and maintains its current strength of 320 in the assembly, BJP can add 4 more Rajya Sabha seats.

Amitabh Tiwari is a political commentator, strategist, and consultant advising political parties and leaders. He was a corporate and investment banker.

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of BloombergQuint or its editorial team.

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