BJP Has Slim Lead Over Opposition In Numbers Game On Farm Bills

Despite kickback from the Akalis the BJP will expect success in the Rajya Sabha given it has been able to call on parties like Odisha's BJD, Andhra Pradesh's YSR Congress and Telangana's TRS in the past

The farm bills, the government says, will help farmers get a better price for their produce (File)

New Delhi: The Rajya Sabha is set for a potentially explosive Sunday showdown over the farm bills, as the Congress-led opposition tries to cobble together the numbers to shoot down the three pieces of legislation. The ruling BJP, with support from its NDA allies and a few "friendly" parties, is expected to have the advantage if the bills are put to vote. The bills sailed through the Lok Sabha despite a revolt by long-time ally Akali Dal. The Akalis, for whom farmers are a core constituency, withdrew Harsimrat Badal Kaur - their sole representative in the Union Cabinet - in protest over "anti-farmer" bills and are reviewing ties with the BJP-led NDA. There have been widespread protests, particularly in Punjab and Haryana, despite PM Modi's assurances to farmers.

Here are the top 10 points in this big story:

  1. The current absolute strength of the Upper House is 243 (two seats are vacant), with the majority mark set at 122. The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) is expected to have around 105 votes, while the opposition should have around 100. Around 32 MPs from various parties - such as the YSR Congress, the BJD and the TRS - are aligned to the BJP, having previously lent them issue-based support.

  2. 10 MPs have tested positive for COVID-19 and have been isolated at home. A further 15 MPs, including the Congress's P Chidambaram - who on Saturday morning hit out at PM Modi over the bills and former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh - will not attend on health grounds. This should help the BJP since it brings down the majority mark.

  3. The BJP, on its own, has 86 members or votes. With its NDA allies, it can count on 105. It cannot, however, count on three Akali MPs, who have been given a three-line whip to vote against the bills, signalling a U-turn for a party that initially supported the laws. Despite this, the BJP believes it is in pole position to win any vote that may be called on the farm bills.

  4. The party, which has issued a three-line whip of its own, is confident because it has, in the past, been able to call on "friendly" regional parties - like Odisha's BJD (nine MPs), Andhra Pradesh's YSR Congress (six MPs) and Telangana's TRS (seven MPs) - to vote in its favour.

  5. In the Lok Sabha the TRS was among those that expressed opposition to the bills. The BJP has reached out to the party to persuade it to vote for the bills if needed. Based on past record the TRS is likely to offer support. Even if it is reluctant to do so, the BJP will still come out on top if the BJD and YSR Congress are in its camp. Sources say that overall the government is confident of the support of around 135 MPs.

  6. The Congress-led opposition, on the other hand - which includes 13 Trinamool Congress MPs and seven from the DMK - will be on the back foot going into today's face-off. The Congress itself has 40 seats and can count on a few others - such as the BSP (four seats), the Samajwadi Party (eight seats) and Delhi's ruling AAP (three seats).

  7. It will, however, certainly need the likes of the YSR Congress, the BJD and the TRS on board to have any chance of a win. Sources have said the Congress has reached out to but the response is not encouraging.

  8. Worse still, the Shiv Sena - with whom the Congress has formed a tripartite government in Maharashtra - has said its three MPs will support the bills despite a spectacular fall-out with the BJP after Assembly elections last year. The BJP, sources added, has also reached out to the NCP - the third member of that alliance - which has four seats.

  9. The government has said the bills will help small and marginal farmers by empowering them to sell their produce at competitive prices anywhere in India. The farmers are concerned that this eliminates the Minimum Support Price (MSP). On Friday, Prime Minister Modi hit out at a "misinformation" campaign by the opposition over the MSP.

  10. The monsoon session of the parliament is expected to be cut short because of fears over the coronavirus pandemic. The Lok Sabha is likely to wrap up by Wednesday and the Rajya Sabha will follow suit. Twenty-five MPs (10 from the Rajya Sabha) have tested positive for the virus so far, leading to fears it may spread further still.

With input from ANI