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Rajya Sabha nominations: BJP looks at state politics, Congress continues with loyalist ‘outsiders’

With the Lok Sabha dominated by the ruling party, the Upper House remains an important platform for opposition and regional party politicians of all hues

The elections to fill up 57 Rajya Sabha seats falling vacant after the retirement of MPs from 15 states will be held on June 10 and the trend of nominations on May 31, the final day of filing papers, suggest a growing political importance of the Upper House, with the BJP nearly completely dominating the Lower House.

For the BJP, an astute play of caste equations has determined who will be nominated, while family loyalties continued to be the principal consideration in the Congress, and regional parties have got a chance to flex their muscles.

The members are retiring between June 21 and August 1. The Rajya Sabha members are chosen through indirect elections, where elected members of legislative assemblies or MLAs cast their votes.

“For the BJP, it is a question of maximising their gains in states, where they can organise defections and hope for cross voting. They have no shortage of people or funds. The Congress has continued its tradition of putting up outsiders in states when they were in power, while for the regional parties, the Rajya Sabha is the only platform left to put their politics into practice,” Manisha Priyam, senior academic and researcher, who holds a doctorate from the London School of Economics and Political Science, told Moneycontrol.

Some Flutters from BJP Blueprint

In the BJP, the omission of Union minority affairs minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi as a Rajya Sabha nominee from Jharkhand, came as a surprise when the party released its list on May 29, particularly considering that he was the party’s deputy leader in the House. In his place, Aditya Sahu was accommodated.

The dropping of the party’s prominent cultural face, Vinay Sahasrabuddhe, head of Indian Council of Cultural Relations (ICCR), from Maharashtra, too caused a flutter.

That there is a question of balancing out power and caste equations is evident. In UP, four-time MLA, Radha Mohan Das Agrawal, who vacated his seat for CM Yogi Adityanath in the recent Assembly polls – reportedly under duress – figured on the list of six BJP nominees from the state. Given the strength of the BJP in the state, the party can easily win seven seats and trigger a nomination for an eighth. Zafar Islam, who membership is up for renewal, hasn’t figured on the BJP list.

The nomination of the party’s former UP chief, Laxmi Kant Vajpayee, who had lost in the 2019 Lok Sabha seat from Meerut when the BJP had swept the state with 71 out of 80 seats on its own, is seen as an attempt to keep politically significant Brahmins in the state on the right side.

For the majority backwards, BJP has fielded UP OBC wing chief K Laxman and Mithilesh Kumar, Dalit leader and a former SP legislator, while another Dalit, Sumitra Balmiki, is the party nominee from Madhya Pradesh. Controversial Lahar Singh Saroya, an avowed Modi acolyte, comes in from Karnataka.

From Rajasthan too, the nomination of Ghanshyam Tiwari, a staunch critic of Vasundhara Raje Scindia, has evoked considerable interest, the decision coming in the light of speculation whether to project her as the face of the party campaign when the state goes to polls next year.

If caste balance is a consideration for the BJP, closeness to the Gandhi family is apparently the sole criterion in the Congress.

It’s All About Family in Congress

Firebrand poet Imran Pratapgarhi, the AICC minority department chairman, is the Congress candidate from Maharashtra, while veteran Rajiv Shukla is set to return to the Upper House after a break from Chhattisgarh.

The list is packed with family loyals – Ajay Maken from Haryana, Mukul Wasnik, AICC spokesperson Randeep Surjewala and senior UP leader Pramod Tiwari from Rajasthan, raising questions whether deploying rank outsiders in a state that is going to be poll-bound soon, is a good move.

The Congress has renominated Vivek Tankha from MP, and Jairam Ramesh from Karnataka, while P Chidambaram has been shifted to Tamil Nadu, after completing his term from Maharashtra.

It has fielded former Bihar Lok Sabha member Ranjeet Ranjan from Chhattisgarh, yet another outsider.

“There is immense pressure on the party, given that it is in power in just two states, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, and there is a long list of people to be accommodated,” a party leader told Moneycontrol.

Seeking to capitalize on the resentment within the Congress over this ‘outsider’ issue, the BJP has decided to target more seats that it can win by backing out-of-party influentials; Subhash Chandra of Zee Media Corporation and Kartikeya Sharma, who runs ITV network, have been put up from Rajasthan and Haryana respectively, queering the pitch for Congress’s Maken on the final day of nominations.

But as Priyam notes, the nomination of Nirmala Sitharaman, too, from Karnataka reveals that the BJP too is not averse to fielding `outsiders’.

In Jharkhand, Congress was snubbed comprehensively when Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), unilaterally announced its candidate, Mahua Majhi, despite chief minister Hemant Soren’s meeting with Congress chief Sonia Gandhi this week amid speculation that the junior ally accommodates either Ghulam Nabi Azad or Anand Sharma from the state.

Regional Parties Tasting Waters

For regional parties, it is an opportunity to test waters, with Bihar’s story being the most interesting of them all. Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, master of the guessing game, decided not to re-nominate RCP Singh for a third consecutive term, effectively settling the exit of the party’s lone face in the Modi cabinet, instead opting for Khiru Mahto from Jharkhand, both belonging to his own influential Kurmi OBC community.

The cards are on the table now. Much of the BJP-JD (U) equation is going to be centred on Singh – a BJP ticket to him could seriously jeopardise the Bihar alliance after the outgoing MP told reporters that he would `seek’ the advice of PM Modi to decide whether to stay on in the Union Cabinet, even though technically there is no bar on non-nominated members quitting the cabinet.

JD (U) ally, BJP, too made changes in Bihar, dropping Gopal Narayan Singh, and retaining Satish Chandra Dubey for a second consecutive term. And in a balancing act, it has chosen to go with Shambhu Sharan Patel, a backward Dhanuk caste, who was with the JD (U) before moving to the saffron party.

In Telangana, chief minister and TRS president, K Chandrashekhar Rao is facing criticism for nominating three heavyweight industrialist-businessmen, instead of those who fought for a separate state.

Hetero Drugs chairman Bandi Parthasarathy Reddy, Gayatri Group chief promoter Vaddiraju Ravi Chandra and Telengana Publications Private Limited chairman, Divakonda Damodar Rao, are the three TRS candidates for the Rajya Sabha.

In 2016, noted British economist and former Labour politician Meghnad Desai wrote in an essay: “The Rajya Sabha should ideally be the chamber where the federal nature of the Constitution gets its play. Its members should be delegates of the states which they purport to represent. Then the Lok Sabha can be truly a national chamber, its members conveying the messages of the citizens from across the country, leaving the Rajya Sabha to speak for the states.”

That situation, however, applies to an ideal world.

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