On the day the winter session of Parliament ended, leaving very little for the Narendra Modi government to flag in terms of economic reforms owing to the Opposition’s intransigence, the results of assembly elections that poured in from two states — trouble-torn Jammu and Kashmir and minerals-rich Jharkhand — showed Modi’s appeal with the electorate is largely intact.
J&K returned a hung verdict with the PDP bagging 28 seats to emerge as the single largest party in the 87-strong state assembly, and the BJP, helped by spectacular gains in the Jammu region, came a close second with 25 seats, its highest ever. In Jharkhand, the BJP stormed to pole position along with its smaller ally AJSU and looked poised to form the first stable government in the state, which saw rickety coalitions and nine chief ministers since its formation in 2000.
While the PDP chose to remain non-committal in the initial hours after the electoral picture became clear on who it would ally with, the Congress, looking at a moderate strength of 12 seats and recalling its coalition government it formed in the state with PDP in 2002, was quick to promise support to the party led by Mufti Mohammed Sayeed and daughter Mehbooba Mufti.
However, a government led by the PDP-BJP combine, possibly with the latter extending outside support, looked more likely in J&K, given that it would cross the majority mark of 44 in the assembly far more comfortably than other permutations would. Addressing a conference in Delhi, BJP president Amit Shah said his party was open to both options — of joining the government or sitting in the opposition.
Though Tuesday’s electoral results did not measure up to the BJP’s expectations, the party, in an aggressive bid to fortify its pan-India presence, wasn’t disappointed either with the success in J&K. In increasing the Modi government’s ability to push the structural reforms that the economy is in crying need of, the latest tidings out of the electoral arena will, however, have only marginal immediate relevance, analysts said.
The Modi government’s legislative reforms, aimed at bolstering the economy, is being stymied by the fact that despite its thumping majority of 335 in the 543-member Lok Sabha, it continues to be in a minority in the Rajya Sabha, having only 65 seats along with its allies — just 45 on its own — in the 245-strong House.
Although the Congress’ strength of 44 in the 16th Lok Sabha is its lowest ever, with 69 members, it is still the largest party in the Upper House where other parties opposed to the BJP like SP (15), JD-U (12,) the Left (11) and the volatile Trinamool Congress (12) are rather strongly represented too.
Apart from the huge victory in Lok Sabha elections held in April-May and the wins in the simultaneous polls held for the Andhra Pradesh and Goa assemblies, the gains in subsequent elections in Maharashtra and Haryana held in October will stand the ruling alliance in good stead when it comes to increasing its strength in the RS.
However, to achieve majority (123) in the Rajya Sabha, the BJP has to wait at least until early 2017 given that only in 2016 would the Upper House produce huge vacancies — as many as 73 members are slated to retire that year. Of course, the outcome of the upcoming polls in other states — Bihar in 2015 and West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Assam in 2016 — too will have a bearing on the BJP’s RS strength, but the gains already made make its task easier.
Given the frequent disruptions in the Rajya Sabha, the Modi government could not get two crucial reform Bills — the Insurance Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2008, and the Coal Mines (Special Provisions) Bill, 2014 — passed in the winter session. In all, 10 Bills have been passed by Parliament in this session, and another eight have been passed by the Lok Sabha only.
On Tuesday, minister of state for finance Jayant Sinha said using the ordinance route for these reforms could not be ruled out, but analysts said unless the Opposition changes its stance, this could not be of much use as far as the insurance Bill is concerned, given that the ordinances’ validity is of six months, within which the ruling alliance can’t alter the party position in RS in its favour.
A parliamentary panel had proposed a 49% composite cap — including foreign direct and portfolio investments — in the insurance sector, with a tighter definition of “control” to strengthen the hands of Indian investors. Enhancing the FDI limit in the capital-starved sector was expected to immediately lead to foreign capital flows of $3 billion, given that many local firms are looking to rope in foreign partners.
The Coal Bill is crucial for timely completion of the reallocation of the coal blocks cancelled by the Supreme Court and give a leg-up to the mining sector, languishing for long, and consuming industries like power and steel.
In J&K, the ruling National Conference suffered a rout, plunging from 28 seats it won in 2008 to 15. Chief minister Omar Abdullah lost from Sonawar, one of the two seats he contested from, but won Beerwah.
In Jharkhand, the BJP, along with its ally AJSU headed by Sudesh Mahto, won 42 seats in the 81-member assembly. The ruling JMM, headed by chief minister Hemant Soren, put up a creditable show, likely bagging 19 seats. Soren was leading in Barhait constituency but was trailing in Dumka. The Congress, part of the the current government in Jharkhand, was leading in seven seats against 14 it had won in the 2009 elections. Its ally RJD was ahead in two seats, down from five in 2009, as reports last came in.