Rajya Sabha polls: Indirect process, direct implication and ‘last resort’ politics

Rajya Sabha polls are indirect, but their political implications are pretty direct. No wonder, parties have again turned to ‘resort’ politics.

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Rajya Sabha polls will be held on June 10. (Photo: PTI/File)
Rajya Sabha polls will be held on June 10. (Photo: PTI/File)

HIGHLIGHTS

  • The Rajya Sabha polls are indirect, that is, MLAs vote
  • But their political implications are pretty direct
  • Ahead of the crucial polls, parties are engaging in 'resort politics'

Elections for 57 Rajya Sabha seats across 15 states are slated for June 10. Results will be declared the same day. These polls were scheduled because 57 Rajya Sabha members are retiring.

But effectively, polls will be held only for 16 seats in four states Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Karnataka, and Haryana after 41 seats were declared elected unopposed on June 5 because nobody else was contesting there.

When Lok Sabha elections happen, all adult Indian citizens are eligible to vote in choosing which party or coalition will rule the country. Though Rajya Sabha polls are indirect, in which Members of Legislative Assemblies (MLAs) vote, they have crucial political implications.

THE RAJYA SABHA

The Lok Sabha (lower house) and the Rajya Sabha (upper house) are the two houses of India’s Parliament. Currently, the Rajya Sabha has a sanctioned strength of 245 Members of Parliament (MPs). Of them, 233 are elected from states and Union Territories (UTs). India’s President nominates the rest from the fields of art, literature, science and social services. India’s Vice-President is the Rajya Sabha chairperson of the Upper House that also has a Deputy Chair.

RAJYA SABHA'S ROLE

A critical role of Parliament is to make laws. And no bill is deemed a law till it has been passed by both houses before being sent to India’s President for his assent. The idea behind having the Rajya Sabha is to ensure richer debates, with the participation of experts from various walks of life, before bills are approved or disapproved.

But many mainstream politicians (like Jayant Chaudhary of the RLD this time) also contest biennial Rajya Sabha elections when no Lok Sabha elections or Assembly polls in their states are likely soon. Some national leaders don’t contest Lok Sabha polls, often because they are not mass leaders, and parties send them to the Rajya Sabha. This is because parties feel they need to be part of the central government.

Former prime minister Manmohan Singh and late BJP leader Arun Jaitley fell into this category. Or when parties feel their presence is needed during parliamentary debates and procedures. Former Congress leader Kapil Sibal (an Independent who the Samajwadi Party has supported) is an example this time.

RAJYA SABHA POLLS

Lok Sabha MPs have a five-year tenure. They are elected simultaneously. The Lok Sabha is dissolved when national elections are announced. But the Rajya Sabha is never dissolved. Like in the case of the Lok Sabha, each state is allocated Rajya Sabha candidates based on its population. Its MPs are elected by MLAs for six years. Since one-third of them retire every second year, polls are held to fill their vacant seats. In case of death, disqualification or resignation, bypolls are held. A member chosen to fill such a vacancy will serve the remainder of his predecessor's term.

THE VOTING PROCESS

One might think if a party has more MLAs than others, its Rajya Sabha candidates will definitely win. That’s not necessarily the case. Balloting in Rajya Sabha polls follows a proportional representation principle and a single transferable vote system to ensure only the majority does not dictate the process. Here is roughly how it works.

  • Each MLA’s vote is counted once. But MLAs don’t vote for each seat.
  • Instead, they have to list different candidates in order of preference.
  • If a qualifying number of voters choose a candidate as their first choice, he or she is elected.
  • The remaining votes go to the next candidates, but with a lesser value. So, MLAs also vote for candidates from other parties.
  • But MLAs have to show their ballots to an authorised agent from their party to check cross-voting. Independents don’t have to show their ballot.

POLITICAL IMPLICATION

The elections are happening ahead of the Presidential polls to be held in July. The President of India is elected by an electoral college comprising both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha MPs, besides MLAs from states and UTs of Delhi and Puducherry. So, the Rajya Sabha polls will impact the Presidential polls.

Numbers in the Rajya Sabha are also crucial for the government to make laws. In that context, the Rajya Sabha elections hold another key. PM Modi’s government has been talking about laws such as the Uniform Civil Code. A good show in the Rajya Sabha elections may prompt the Centre to move a bill in Parliament. In 2019, the BJP did well in the Rajya Sabha polls and went for the Citizenship Amendment Act and the abrogation of Article 370 from Jammu and Kashmir.

If one looks at the names of the 41 names already elected unopposed, it will become clearer as to which way future events might be heading. The winners include 11 from Uttar Pradesh, with eight from the ruling BJP, one each from the Samajwadi Party and the RLD and Kapil Sibal, an independent.

The 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 Congress), three each from Madhya Pradesh (BJP 2, Congress 1) and Odisha (all 3 BJD), two each from Chhattisgarh (both Congress), Punjab (both AAP), Telangana (both TRS) and Jharkhand (JMM 1, BJP 1) and one candidate from Uttarakhand.

'RESORT' POLITICS

Stakes are high for the remaining 16 seats. And dangers for cross-voting are such that “resort politics” is back in action. Sample these: about 70 MLAs of the ruling Congress in Rajasthan have been sent to an Udaipur resort. The BJP has chosen Jaipur as its location to ward off poaching attempts. Haryana Congress MLAs have been moved to a hotel in Chhattisgarh’s Raipur. The Shiv Sena is reported to be planning to move its MLAs to a five-star hotel in the western suburbs of Mumbai. For the BJP, the location is said to be Mumbai’s Trident Hotel.