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Opinion: BJP's Rajya Sabha Names Signal Change. Congress's, Only Inertia

Amitabh Tiwari

Amitabh Tiwari

Opinion: BJP's Rajya Sabha Names Signal Change. Congress's, Only Inertia
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With nominations to 56 Rajya Sabha seats having concluded, all eyes are on February 27 now for the results. While the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) list is full of surprises, Congress nominations have been on expected lines. In a way, the BJP's list gives confidence to its cadre and leaders that anybody's and everybody's time could come. The Congress, on the other hand, seems to have repeated most of its candidates in an attempt to adjust heavyweights from some or the other state. 

Uttar Pradesh has the highest number of vacancies, totalling 10 seats, followed by Maharashtra and Bihar, with six each. Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal have five vacancies each, while Karnataka and Gujarat have four each. Odisha, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, and Rajasthan apiece have three vacancies. Additionally, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, and Chhattisgarh each have one.

Big Changes For BJP

Out of the 56 Rajya Sabha seats up for grabs, 28 belong to the BJP, 10 to the Congress, four to the Trinamool Congress (TMC), three to the Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS), and two each to the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), the Janata Dal-United (JD-U) and the Biju Janata Dal. Additionally, one seat each is held by the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), the Yuvajana Sramika Rythu Congress Party (YSRCP), the Samajwadi Party (SP), the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), and the Shiv Sena.

Of the 28, the BJP has renominated only four MPs: party president J.P. Nadda (Gujarat), Ashwini Vaishnaw (Odisha), L. Murugan (Madhya Pradesh) and Sudhanshu Trivedi (Uttar Pradesh). Union ministers Mansukh Mandaviya and Parshottam Rupala from Gujarat, Narayan Rane from Maharashtra, Rajeev Chandrasekhar (Karnataka), Dharmendra Pradhan (Madhya Pradesh), V. Muraleedharan (Maharashtra) and Bhupender Yadav (Rajasthan) are retiring but have not been renominated. According to reports, all these ministers are likely to be fielded by the BJP in the upcoming Lok Sabha election. Other big names that have not been renominated are Anil Baluni, Prakash Javadekar, Saroj Pandey and Sushil Kumar Modi. Their fate is not known, but they might also be asked to contest the general election. 

The BJP has gone in for big changes. It seems to have put the onus on heavyweight ministers to face the public and win Lok Sabha elections for the party, thus providing strength to its 'Mission 400+'. In a way, this is an acid test for ministers to succeed in the Lok Sabha elections at a time when there is enough positive momentum for the party. This also is a test of their popularity.

A Rajya Sabha election is a comparatively easier contest as victory is assured. A Rajya Sabha nominee reaps the benefits of the party's performance in Vidhan Sabha polls. The BJP, by not re-nominating 85% of its current members, is giving a chance to other candidates and rewarding them for their contributions. 

Grassroots Leaders Make The Cut

From Karnataka, the BJP has nominated Narayana Krishanasa Bhandage, a grassroots Sangh leader who has been associated with the party since its beginning. From Bengal, an old Sangh hand, Samik Bhattacharjee, has been fielded. In the Hindi heartland states-Bihar and Uttar Pradesh-the nominations reflect a plan to achieve caste/community balance. Two former Congressmen, Ashok Chavan and R.P.N Singh, have been nominated to show that outsiders are rewarded in the party. 

Sudhanshu Trivedi is a Brahmin from Uttar Pradesh and a prominent face in the media who makes frequent and successful appearances in news debates for the BJP. Former Congress leader R.P.N Singh belongs to the OBC (Sainthwar) community. 

Other names include Amarpal Maurya, an OBC and the BJP's Uttar Pradesh general secretary; Chaudhari Tejveer Singh, a three-time Jat MP from Mathura; Sadhna Singh, a former lawmaker; and Sangeeta Balwant, who hails from the OBC (Bind) community. 

In Bihar, the party has nominated Dharmsheela Gupta and Bhim Singh Chandravanshi. Both hold significant posts in the state unit. Gupta replaces Sushil Kumar Modi, the former Deputy Chief Minister of Bihar, signalling a generational change in the state's leadership.

Congress Names Throw Up Little Surprise

From the Congress side, of the 10 names, seven are on expected lines. Four leaders have been renominated: Akhilesh Prasad Singh (Bihar), Abhishek Manu Singhvi (Himachal Pradesh), Syed Naseer Hussain (Karnataka) and G.C. Chandrasekhar (Karnataka). Sonia Gandhi (Rajasthan) and Gandhi family loyalists Renuka Chowdhary (Telangana) and Ajay Maken (Karnataka) are also on the list. 

Three new names have come up: Ashok Singh (Madhya Pradesh), Anil Kumar Yadav (Telangana) and Chandrakant Handore (Maharashtra). The fact that Singh has been nominated despite having lost three elections in 2009, 2014 and 2019 sends a wrong message to the party cadre that even non-performance can be rewarded in the party. 

Anil Kumar Yadav is the son of ex-MP Anjan Kumar Yadav, and his nomination yet again foregrounds the tag of dynastic politics which the Congress has been trying to shed for years now, and for which it has been frequently criticised by the BJP. 

Wrong Messaging

Congress nominations give a wrong impression to its cadre and leadership, that only a select coterie of people have a chance to rise to the top in the party. This is being seen as one of the key reasons for the exodus of young Congress leaders to the BJP and other parties in recent years.

While the results of these elections are not likely to alter the Rajya Sabha composition significantly, the choices speak a lot about the approach of the two national parties. While the BJP seeks to build new leadership, Congress has opted for tried and tested names, thus disincentivising young and capable leaders. BJP leaders may be able to draw encouragement from the hope that "apna time aayega", for Congress leaders, however, the Rajya Sabha names feel like a long-debated question of "Kal Ho Na Ho".

(Amitabh Tiwari is a political strategist and commentator. In his earlier avatar, he was a corporate and investment banker.)

Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.

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