India’s “Other” Chamber of Parliament

By Richard Rossow


Parliament of India. Source: Wikimedia user Deepak, used under a creative commons license.

Parliament of India. Source: Wikimedia user Deepak, used under a creative commons license.

The ability of India’s next government to enact legislative reforms is not a simple calculation of the number of Lok Sabha seats controlled by the winning coalition. Another important consideration is the party’s strength in the upper house of parliament, or Rajya Sabha. Irrespective of the outcome of the Lok Sabha elections, the Congress party will continue to control a plurality of votes in the Rajya Sabha for the next several years.

The Rajya Sabha currently has 241 members, each sitting for six years apiece. Elections are held throughout the year, with 1/6th of members losing their seat every year. Rajya Sabha members are not directly elected; instead, they are elected by the legislative assemblies of the various states. The fact that Congress has controlled nearly half of Indian state legislatures in the last 6 years has allowed the party to maintain its strength in the Rajya Sabha.

Currently, Congress and its allies hold about 38 percent of seats in the Rajya Sabha. This percentage is unlikely to change much in 2014 as Congress has only 3 Rajya Sabha seats up for election this year. Congress could even make some additional gains as four Rajya Sabha seats in Karnataka are up for election this year- and Congress took over that state’s legislative assembly last year.

By contrast, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies – who most analysts predict will form the next national government– hold only hold 26 percent of seats in the Rajya Sabha. Therefore, moving legislation through parliament could be quite tricky as the BJP will need to find support from a number of parties which have not traditionally supported its policy agenda in the past.

Parties Opposed to BJP Seats
Indian National Congress (INC ) 69
Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI(M) ) 9
Nationalist Congress Party (NCP ) 6
Communist Party of India (CPI ) 2
J&K National Conference (J&KNC ) 2
Others 4
Parties Aligned with BJP Seats
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP ) 46
Telugu Desam Party (TDP ) 6
Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD ) 3
Shiv Sena (SS ) 3
Others 4
Non-Aligned Parties Seats
Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP ) 14
Trinamool Congress 12
Janata Dal (United) (JD(U) ) 9
Samajwadi Party (SP ) 9
Biju Janata Dal (BJD ) 6
Dravida Munnetra Kazagham (DMK ) 4
Others 23

Changes to the Rajya Sabha in 2014 & 2015

A total of 18 Rajya Sabha seats will be up for election later this year. The bulk of these are in Uttar Pradesh (10) and Karnataka (4). The BJP may actually lose seats this year due to its poor showing in the most recent state elections held in Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, and Uttarakhand. Congress, which won 54 percent of seats in Karnataka in the 2013 state election and picked up the most seats in the 2012 state election in Uttarakhand, could see an increase in its share of Rajya Sabha seats.

The following year, 2015, is not terribly promising for the BJP and its allies. A total of 10 seats in the Rajya Sabha will be up for election, but the majority are in Kerala and Jammu & Kashmir, which are not BJP strongholds. So the chances for the BJP or its allies to gain seats is pretty remote.

Does It Matter?

A great number of things can be done to stimulate the economy without legislation. Examples include building infrastructure, increasing most FDI caps, and ensuring regulatory stability. However, some critical reforms such as the Goods & Services Tax, Insurance Bill, and Direct Tax Code will need parliamentary support. So the relative strength of parties in the Rajya Sabha could facilitate or derail attempts to enact legislative economic reforms.

Mr. Richard M. Rossow holds the Wadhwani Chair in U.S.-India Policy Studies at CSIS. Follow him on twitter @RichardRossow.

Richard Rossow

Richard Rossow

Richard M. Rossow is a senior fellow and holds the Wadhwani Chair in U.S.-India Policy Studies at CSIS.


1 comment for “India’s “Other” Chamber of Parliament

  1. Puneet Bhandari
    May 14, 2014 at 09:59

    Mr Rossow,

    Wouldn’t Goods & Services Tax, Insurance Bill, and Direct Tax Code bills be considered financial bills, which could not under the rules, be blocked by the Rajya Sabha ?


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