The Rajya Sabha is set for a potentially explosive and tightly-fought Sunday showdown over the farm bills, with the ruling BJP and the opposition Congress actively reaching out to various parties in a bid to engineer enough support to either pass or shoot down the three contentious pieces of legislation.
All three bills sailed through the Lok Sabha – where the BJP has a more-than-comfortable majority – after a voice vote, but could face a stronger challenge in the Rajya Sabha, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party remains some way adrift of a majority on its own.
The current strength of the Upper House is 243 with a majority mark of 122.
In what is already a very tight race, the BJP-led NDA is expected to have around 105 votes, while the opposition should have around 100 in their column.
However, 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 this morning hit out at the BJP and Prime Minister Modi over the farm bills – have expressed their inability to attend. Both these developments should help the BJP since it brings down the majority mark.
The BJP, on its own, has 86 members, and, with its NDA allies, it can count on 105 votes. It cannot, however, count on the three Akali Dal MPs, who have been given a three-line whip to vote against.
The Akalis – one of the BJP’s oldest allies – pulled its sole representative from the Union Cabinet – Harsimrat Kaur Badal – in protest against the “anti-farmer” bills.
Despite this the BJP, which has issued a three-line whip of its own, will expect success, given that it has been able to call on “friendly” regional parties in the past – like Odisha’s BJD, Andhra Pradesh’s YSR Congress and Telangana’s TRS – to vote in its favour when needed.
Jagan Mohan Reddy’s YSR Congress has six seats and K Chandrasekhar Rao’s TRS has seven. Naveen Patnaik’s BJD has nine seats.
Sources say the government is confident that around 135 MPs will vote in support of the farm bills.
The Congress-led opposition, on the other hand, which includes the Trinamool Congress and its 13 MPs, will be on the back foot going into tomorrow’s face-off.
The Congress itself has 40 seats and can count on several regional and smaller parties – such as the BSP (four seats), the Samajwadi Party (eight seats) and Delhi’s AAP (three seats).
However, the opposition will 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 these three but the response is not encouraging.
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 the ruling alliance in the state. The NCP holds four Rajya Sabha seats.
The government has said the bills will help small and marginal farmers by empowering them through written agreements and farmers can sell their produce at competitive prices anywhere in India.
However, farmers fear this means they will no longer be able to sell at a MSP. Massive protests have broken out across Punjab and Haryana as the bills are set to be tabled in the Rajya Sabha Sunday.
On Friday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi hit out at what he said was a “misinformation” campaign against the bills. He said “fake news” was being spread that farmers would not get a Minimum Support Price (MSP) for their produce and that this produce would not be bought by the government.