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Azad set to lead Cong in Rajya Sabha

New Delhi, June 4: The robust majority the Modi regime enjoys in the Lok Sabha is unlikely to make its life easy in the Rajya Sabha as it may not be able to muster a majority even with support from the AIADMK, Biju Janata Dal and the Trinamul Congress.

The key to the success of legislative business lies with the Congress, hence Sonia Gandhi has decided to make the crafty and combative Ghulam Nabi Azad the leader of the Rajya Sabha, ahead of veterans such as Manmohan Singh and A.K. Antony.

The Congress will need a strategic understanding with like-minded parties to rein in the government where it lacks strength, and Azad was seen as the best choice.

Although no formal announcement has been made so far, Congress sources revealed to The Telegraph that Azad’s name was “almost final”.

The Rajya Sabha will open on June 9 after the Lok Sabha MPs are sworn in and the President’s address to the joint session of Parliament is over. Hence, the Congress did not name its Rajya Sabha leader alongside Lok Sabha’s Mallikarjun Kharge, whose choice was read as Rahul Gandhi’s reluctance to take responsibility.

There are indications that the BJP is looking to add up numbers in the Rajya Sabha and has offered the deputy Speaker’s post to the AIADMK. The Congress has viewed this as a snub.

Although the Congress kept both the Speaker’s and the deputy Speaker’s post with itself in the initial period after Independence, a tradition gradually developed of the deputy Speaker’s post being given to the Opposition.

Congress leader P.M. Sayeed was the deputy Speaker during the Vajpayee regime and Akali Dal’s Charanjeet Singh Atwal when Manmohan Singh became Prime Minister in 2004. In Manmohan’s second term, the BJP’s Kariya Munda held the post.

The BJP is not certain to offer the post to the Congress this time. The AIADMK’s M. Thambi Durai, who was deputy Speaker between 1985 and 1989, could get a second term.

Still, there appears to be no way the NDA can muster enough support even if friendly parties extend help. The NDA has 56 seats in the Rajya Sabha against the UPA’s 79. Other parties have 85 members, of which the AIADMK’s 10, BJD’s four and the Indian National Lok Dal’s two may extend issue-based support.

Trinamul has 12 members but it has so far not given any positive signal to the BJP. A give-and-take in the future cannot, however, be ruled out.

The Left with 11 members, Samajwadi Party with nine and the Bahujan Samajwadi Party with 14 will hold the key. They have demonstrated unity of purpose with the Congress in the past. With intensifying political turbulence in Uttar Pradesh and the BJP’s rising fortunes, the Samajwadis and the BSP may like to play obstructionist politics and slow down government business.

The Left may inch closer to the Congress, so too the Janata Dal (United), which has nine members. If this secular division persists, the NDA will be restricted to around 85 even with AIADMK, BJD and Trinamul support, whereas the Congress would be at 135 with the backing of the Samajwadis, BSP, JD-U and the Left.

This situation could change dramatically if the BJP wins Maharashtra later this year and Bihar next year, followed by Uttar Pradesh in 2016. Till then, it may have to keep the Congress and its secular allies in good humour.