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Rajya Sabha Polls: BJP Needs to Win Over Naveen Patnaik First

Rajya Sabha elections pose a serious threat to BJP’s dominance in Indian politics in the last 3-4 years

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The United Opposition , after tasting success in the Uttar Pradesh by-polls is once again coming together to deliver a possible blow to the BJP. This time the playground is the Rajya Sabha, where the Opposition historically has had the numbers, but lately BJP has consolidated its position.

This will put the Opposition’s unity to test, before elections to the three states where BJP is in power, and the 2019 general elections.

In a significant move, the Congress has agreed to support a Trinamool Congress (TMC) candidate. Most regional satraps are expected to support a United Opposition candidate. However, neutral parties like Biju Janata Dal, YSR Congress and PDP could play the role of kingmaker.

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Strength of Rajya Sabha

In a 245-member house, there are currently 241 members; 4 seats are vacant. NDA and pro-BJP parties have 102 members in the house. 3 of the 4 vacant seats belong to the ‘nominated’ category. These seats are likely to be filled up before the Monsoon Session begins. Nominated members are, in all probability, to support the NDA – taking its tally to 105.

UPA has 66 members and along with anti-BJP regional parties, the tally of the United Opposition is 119. Neutral satraps like Naveen Patnaik, Jagan and Mehbooba Mufti may hold the keys in a tight contest.

Rajya Sabha elections pose a serious threat to BJP’s dominance in Indian politics in the last 3-4 years
Rajya Sabha elections pose a serious threat to BJP’s dominance in Indian politics in the last 3-4 years
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Luck on Anti-BJP Clan’s Side

By the time elections take place in July, the house is likely to have 244 members (along with 3 newly nominated members). To win the Deputy Chairman Elections, a party / group needs 123 votes. UPA, along with the regional parties, is just four short of the magic number. TDP’s Chandrababu Naidu and TRS’s KCR are expected to support the Trinamool candidate. The Opposition can ensure their candidate’s victory through either of these means:

  • Get the support of 4 out of 6 Independents,
  • Get Naveen Patnaik’s support,
  • Get Mehbooba Mufti and Kerala Congress’ support along with 1 Independent
  • Poach Shiv Sena from NDA and get the support of 1 Independent
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Rajya Sabha elections pose a serious threat to BJP’s dominance in Indian politics in the last 3-4 years
BJP is not going to give up this fight easily as a loss here will taint its record and will add to the prevalent perception that the party could struggle to return to power in 2019.

It needs to get Naveen Patnaik on its side, and a majority of the Independents along with PDP and YSRCP.

The separation with PDP had no animosity. YSRCP would want to take a stand opposite to TDP’s Naidu and support the BJP candidate. Two-three permutation-combinations are possible, but without Naveen’s support, BJP’s chances are low.

How BJP’s candidate can win:

Rajya Sabha elections pose a serious threat to BJP’s dominance in Indian politics in the last 3-4 years
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BJP Needs to Woo Naveen Patnaik

Naveen has maintained an equidistant from the BJP as well as the Congress. He has not been seen in any Opposition unity meetings. He skipped Kumaraswamy’s swearing-in. BJD was earlier part of the NDA but left in 2009. The entire politics of BJD has been instituted on an anti-Congress plank.

The BJP has recently upped the ante in Odisha with Mission 120+ threatening to dislodge BJD from power. This has put Naveen Patnaik in a quandary. Supporting the BJP could mar his chances in Odisha. But supporting Trinamool would portray him as being on the same page as the Congress. However, the only subtle difference here is that, he will be supporting a regional party candidate which happens to be also supported by the Congress.

The BJP could persuade Patnaik to refrain, but this would reduce its strength to 235 with 118 required for victory. UPA plus anti-BJP forces are already at a 119.

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How BJP Can Win

The BJP could also bank on opposition members to cross vote for its candidate. Smaller parties like INLD and even TRS could be on this list of targets, that the BJP may chalk out for its lobbyists to influence.

Thus, the Rajya Sabha elections pose a serious threat to BJP’s dominance in Indian politics in the last 3-4 years. It also presents the Opposition with an opportunity to work together, and strengthen an anti-BJP template which could be used in all future elections. A nail-biting finish is expected.

(Amitabh Tiwari is an ex-corporate and investment banker turned political consultant and commentator. He can be reached @politicalbaaba. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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