The result of the recent round of elections to 57 Rajya Sabha seats provides significant political insights into the Indian states and the land at the center, and highlights the institutional contradictions at the heart of India’s two-party parliamentary system.
Take the political story first and the four features appear.
The first is a confirmation known since 2014. Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) fights to win; Even when existing arithmetic suggests that restraint is better than bravery, it fights; Its aggressive politics expose the fundamental contradictions within the opposing hierarchy and keep other parties on the defensive; And it is ready to use every political and institutional tool at its disposal to achieve this victory. This playbook helped select a third candidate for the party in both Maharashtra and Karnataka (it had enough MLAs for the two seats when the contest began), and enabled an independent candidate to win in Haryana. It has conveyed another message of the BJP’s political domination and will continue to provide not just a numerical but psychological edge to the upper house.
Two, non-BJP forces struggled when it came to marginalization. In Maharashtra, the Shiv Sena-Congress-Nationalist Congress Party alliance seems to have stabilized, but there is ample opportunity to back the BJP in the state. In Haryana, the Congress has a prosperity problem at the top (even when its footprint is low on the ground), and the inability of all its senior state leaders to join together has once again lost the party. In Karnataka, the trench between the Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular) did not help the BJP in this round, but the party will benefit from the state’s election next year despite the apparent lack of clear governance in the present state. By the way.
Three, Rajasthan gave a lesson to the non-BJP end of the political spectrum on how to take national domination. And once again – as Ahmed Patel showed in the Rajya Sabha elections in Gujarat in 2017 – it was given to him by the old guard of the Congress. A rooted and aggressive Chief Minister (Ashok Gehlot), who handled every legislator and monitored the turnout on a minute-to-minute basis, was able to secure the election of a third Congress candidate and defeat the BJP’s plans to be independently elected. The Gulf within the BJP – a party that is otherwise capable of enforcing discipline – is once again the only state that has hurt its political ambitions. But even if the election has implications for the internal power struggles of both the Congress and the BJP in the run-up to the 2023 Assembly elections, any big conclusions about how the election will emerge from this issue are premature.
And finally, the BJP, along with its visible and invisible friends (regional parties that claim to oppose the BJP but covertly support it at every crucial vote), continue to be on the verge of pushing its legislative agenda in the Rajya Sabha. It will pillow the party for the presidential election in July. Remember, this has not been given in the last few years when the party has lost a string of state assemblies or a low presence in these assemblies.
But beyond the immediate, it is useful to examine the organizational story.
When the drafters of the Constitution enacted the Rajya Sabha, there were two underlying impulses. The first is to create a House that is directly in the heart of the elected Lok Sabha, by design, resistant to everyday popular pressures. The Rajya Sabha – due to the nature of the indirectly elected House – is intended to separate the law-making process from the immediate party-political needs and serve as a board of elders. The second is to ensure that the states of India have a voice in the national legislature. In the matter of devolution, constitutional design favored the Center. But the legislative scrutiny of the central executive – which gained its strength from the Lok Sabha – comes from the council of states – members draw their existence and power from the balance of power in the states.
On both counts, recent elections have reinforced structural weaknesses that have deepened over the years. Rajya Sabha elections are not immune from immediate political imperatives – but are, in fact, conducted by them. The choice of candidates is not just keeping an eye on who will be able to contribute more effectively as a legislator, but also with the question of the political party’s incentives and the winnings. And there is a clear tension between the efforts of the parties to establish discipline in order to expand their presence in the upper house, and the role of the individual agency of lawmakers seeking to use the power of their vote to send a message to their parties, hire candidates or open the door to defection. All this means that there is little basis to expect that the Rajya Sabha will play an effective counter-role as a defender on principle.
And while the balance of power in state legislatures is key to the election, this does not mean that the voices heard in the Rajya Sabha are a true reflection of the states ’priorities. They are a reflection of the political agenda of the respective party at the state and center at any particular point. The stance of the members of the Rajya Sabha is dictated by the member-party relationship with the central ruling party. This in itself is neither good nor bad, but it does mean that those who expect the upper house to be the true Council of States will continue to be disappointed.
The big corporate story does not change amid the political chaos generated by the Rajya Sabha elections. The Upper House of India is struggling to become a Council of Elders, which will better transform the legal process and debate process that is struggling to function as a Council of States that effectively intervenes on the most important issues affecting their states. Indian federalism in general. With 57 newly elected or returning members, the Rajya Sabha may want to reflect on how to make the organization more effective in meeting its original constitutional vision.