A weak presence in the Rajya Sabha has forced the NDA to try and rope in 'weak links' in the Opposition ranks to pass key legislation in the Upper House. Rediff.com contributor Anita Katyal reports.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has adopted a divide and rule policy to ensure the smooth passage of his government's legislative agenda in Parliament.
With 338 members, the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance is comfortably placed in the Lok Sabha, but may face problems in passing key legislation in the Rajya Sabha, where it does not enjoy a majority.
Modi wants to make sure that the Opposition parties do not join hands in the Upper House of Parliament. This strategy was perfected by then prime minister P V Narasimha Rao who successfully exploited the differences in the Opposition ranks, to run a minority government between 1991 and 1996.
Modi has reached out to two regional parties -- J Jayalalithaa's All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the Naveen Patnaik-led Biju Janata Dal -- that have been BJP allies in the past.
Both parties are not stridently opposed to Modi or the BJP and have been identified as "weak links" or "kamzor kadi" in the Opposition ranks.
NDA sources told Rediff.com that the BJP is not averse to offering the Lok Sabha Deputy Speaker's post to the AIADMK. M Thambidurai, who held the post between 1984 and 1989, is being tipped for the position that is conventionally offered to the Opposition.
The BJD is being lured with special financial packages for Odisha.
Jayalalithaa and Patnaik, who called on Modi this week, are believed to have had cordial conversations with the prime minister who sought their support in the Rajya Sabha.
Emerging from the 50-minute meeting with Modi, Jayalalithaa signalled that her party is open to provide issue-based support to the NDA government in the Upper House.
Thambidurai was predictably non-committal when asked if his party will play the role of an effective Opposition in Parliament. "My party leader has already spoken on this issue... we will wait for further instructions from her," he told Rediff.com
The BJP is also hoping to get West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's support in the Rajya Sabha. Banerjee may find it difficult to offer open support to the Modi government for fear of alienating her Muslim support base.
Although Banerjee is among the chief ministers who are yet to call on the prime minister, she may hold back her punches in view of the ongoing Central Bureau of Investigation probe into the Saradha chit fund scam and the lure of a substantial financial package for her state from the Centre.
"At best, our party will offer tempered opposition to the NDA government," a senior Trinamool Congress leader told Rediff.com
A senior NDA leader explained that it is easier for Jayalalithaa and Patnaik to support the Modi government as they do not have to worry about alienating minority populations in their respective states. "But Mamata Banerjee has her constraints," he said.
None of the Opposition parties have shown an inclination to join hands with the Congress in Parliament. Addressing party MPs last month, Congress President Sonia Gandhi appealed for floor coordination among 'secular and progressive' parties, but so far there has been no formal move.
"These are early days... Let's see how the situation evolves," the Trinamool Congress leader said.
The confusion in the Opposition ranks suits the BJP-led NDA. The Modi government cannot allow its legislative agenda to be stalled by temperamental leaders. It has to deliver swiftly on its election promise to lift the economy and improve governance.
The BJP has just 46 members in the Rajya Sabha while the NDA numbers add up to 64. The ruling alliance can do with the help of the 10 AIADMK MPs and 6 BJD MPs in the Upper House. The NDA will also have to deal with the smaller parties and nominated members to reach the half-way mark in the 243-member Rajya Sabha.
Although BJP leaders have said the government will not hesitate to call joint sessions of Parliament to pass blocked legislation, an AIADMK leader felt it would not be necessary as matters could be resolved through a consensus.
The NDA's parliamentary ministers will have to do some deft floor management in view of its precarious position in the Rajya Sabha. It has already made a beginning by reaching out to the AIADMK and the BJD, but this relationship will have to be sustained through sops and other offers to Tamil Nadu and Odisha.
Image: Top: Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik greets Prime Minister Narendra Modi on June 2, 2014. Photograph: Press Information Bureau. Bottom: Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa greets Prime Minister Narendra Modi, June 3, 2014.