The Telegraph
Saturday , May 31 , 2014
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BJP hunts for RS cushions

New Delhi, May 30: The BJP has touched base with Jayalalithaa and Naveen Patnaik, the chiefs of the AIADMK and the Biju Janata Dal, to fish for numbers to tide the government over a possible crunch in the Rajya Sabha.

Union minister Arun Jaitley, who will also be the leader of the upper House, began the exercise with a phone call to the Tamil Nadu chief minister on Thursday. The call was described by sources as “extremely cordial”.

Jayalalithaa is now scheduled to call on the Prime Minister on June 3, offering Modi a chance to restore a friendship scarred by rancorous exchanges on the campaign trail and her boycott of his oath-taking ceremony to protest the invite to the Sri Lankan President. Jayalalithaa is expected to raise a host of state-related issues with Modi. Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik will also be in the national capital on a similar mission.

The calls come just before the first session of the 16th Lok Sabha, where the BJP will be the dominant force.

But the ruling coalition is short of a majority in the Rajya Sabha, which poses a headache as at least two ordinances will have to be converted into laws by getting them passed in both Houses. One relates to the appointment of the principal secretary to the Prime Minister and the other to Telangana and Seemandhra.

In the Rajya Sabha, the BJP and its pre-poll allies have 56 MPs — 60 less than the majority mark of 116 as the effective strength of the upper House is 231 because of 14 vacancies.

In such a situation, the role of the AIADMK, Trinamul and the BJD becomes significant. The three parties have 26 MPs in the Rajya Sabha: Trinamul has 12, the AIADMK 10 and the BJD four.

BJP sources said they were not including Trinamul in their calculations because of Mamata Banerjee’s “political imperatives” that stem from the decisive minority vote in Bengal. That reduces the size of the regional block to 14 and the BJP needs to find another 46 to make up the shortfall.

A cocktail of regional parties can provide 17 votes, and the Samajwadi Party and the BSP — known for “pragmatism” in crunch situations — together account for 23. Even then there is a shortfall of six — which makes Trinamul’s dozen MPs a crucial factor.

The BJP’s Rajya Sabha strategy could be impacted by its tactics in the Lok Sabha where three posts have to be filled: those of the Speaker, the deputy Speaker and the leader of the Opposition.

The last one has caught the BJP’s political imagination. “The post (the leader of the Opposition) is potentially ripe for realpolitik,” said a BJP leader.

With confusion clouding the post — whether a party needs at least 55 MPs or not to get it — the BJP is banking on the Speaker’s “discretion”.

The “discretion” caveat assumes significance against the backdrop of suggestions that Trinamul, AIADMK and the BJD might coalesce into a larger Opposition bloc and stake claim to the post.

The BJP is considering veteran Sumitra Mahajan for the Speaker’s post and is not averse to the Congress nominating the deputy Speaker. But on the Opposition leader’s post, the scope for manoeuvres with an eye on potential cushions is expected to be explored.