June 8, 2019
By Devjyot Ghoshal
NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling alliance could achieve a crucial majority in the upper house of parliament next year if some small regional parties join the bloc that recently won a massive mandate in the lower house, according to a projection by an independent research firm.
Dominating both houses is essential to pass controversial legislation that Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) party has promised to its Hindu nationalist base, such as granting citizenship to non-Muslim immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh and Pakistan.
The prediction by PRS Legislative Research, which tracks the functioning of India’s parliament, shows that the BJP alone could secure 83 seats in the upper house by next year – 10 more than it currently holds.
The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) could control 107 seats, seven more than its current tally and just 15 short of a majority in the 243-member chamber, PRS said.
Most members of the upper house are elected by lawmakers from state assemblies, while a dozen are nominated by the federal government. All of them enjoy a full-term lasting six years, with a third of the house retiring after every second year.
The increases in the NDA numbers in the projection come from states like Uttar Pradesh in northern India that the BJP resoundingly won in the 2017 state election.
PRS’s projection shows that to get to the 122 seats needed for a majority, the NDA would need the support of regional parties from eastern and southern India. Some of the key parties have supported the NDA in the past.
Modi and the BJP already have an iron grip over the lower house after they won a general election last month with a landslide mandate, improving on his massive win in 2014. During his first term, though, the government’s legislative agenda was often thwarted by opposition parties who hold sway in the upper house, known as the Rajya Sabha.
“There are several unfinished items from the first term because the NDA did not have a majority in the Rajya Sabha, and we are looking forward to the time when some of these items can get passed and legislated,” BJP National Vice President Baijayant Panda said.
The government’s legislative pipeline could include a bill to stop Muslim men seeking instant divorce, or “triple talaq”, and pushing key economic reforms, such as changing labor regulations and rules for land acquisition that have long been demanded by Indian industry.
A senior BJP leader, who declined to be named, told Reuters the party is looking to stitch up a two-thirds majority in both houses.
That would allow it to pass constitutional amendments such as ending the decades-old special rights for the people of Jammu and Kashmir, the country’s only Muslim-majority state, parts of which are also claimed by neighboring Pakistan.
Such a move would be regarded as highly inflammatory by separatists in Kashmir and by Pakistan as they argue it could lead to many more Hindus moving into the state from other parts of India, changing the religious balance of the region.
The BJP’s election manifesto also mentioned its intention to create a uniform civil code that would apply to all Indians, replacing different laws for major religious communities that apply to family matters such as marriage, divorce and succession.
India’s main opposition Congress party, on the other hand, is set to lose 12 seats in the upper house by 2020, bringing its total tally down to 38.
In India’s lower house, Congress controls only 52 seats, compared to the BJP’s record 303 members, rendering it unable to block any legislation in that chamber.
(Reporting by Devjyot Ghoshal; Editing by Martin Howell and Richard Pullin)