NEW DELHI -- The hectic behind-the-scenes lobbying is over and major political parties have nominated their candidates for Rajya Sabha. Come June 11, the election to the Upper House of Parliament will be held and 55 seats that have fallen vacant due to retirement of members will be filled. Getting into the Upper House involves a political party nominating candidates who are then elected by lawmakers in states and union territories for a period of six years.
Even though it lacks the excitement of gritty campaigning, the Rajya Sabha election, held every two years, is hugely important because a Bill needs to be passed by both Houses of Parliament to become law. The current make-up of the Rajya Sabha, dominated by the Congress Party, is proving to be a thorn in the side of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, which has failed to push through critical legislation such as the Goods and Services Tax Bill in the Upper House despite having a majority in the Lok Sabha.
The tensions inside the Rajya Sabha also fuel the most intense debates in Parliament, with political parties unleashing their best speakers against each other. The Congress Party's nominees include top lawyers such as P. Chidambaram, Kapil Sibal and Vivek Tankha, who, experts say, the Gandhi family needs to take on the BJP's rambunctious new nominee, Subramanian Swamy.
Only BJP Has Nominated Muslims
Now, what stands out about the upcoming Rajya Sabha election on June 11 is that not a single Muslim has been nominated by the mainstream national and regional parties, which boast "secular" credentials. These include the Congress Party, the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party, regional parties from Uttar Pradesh, Janata Dal (United) and the Rashtriya Janata Dal, regional parties from Bihar.
The only party to include Muslims in its list of candidates is the BJP, a Hindu nationalist party, which is renominating Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi and M.J. Akbar.
However, it is well-worth remembering that parties such as the Congress and the SP field way more Muslim candidates in the Lok Sabha and state elections than the BJP. Muslims get fewer tickets from the BJP and it is relatively rare for Muslims to win popular mandate on a BJP ticket, in a country still largely dominated by identity politics. Nominating Muslims to the Rajya Sabha election allows the BJP to have a few Muslim faces.
Naqvi, Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs, who was the BJP's Rajya Sabha member from Uttar Pradesh, is now standing from Jharkhand. Akbar, former journalist and party spokesperson, who represented BJP from Jharkhand, is now standing from Madhya Pradesh.
Out of the 55 lawmakers, who will retire from June to August, five are Muslims: Mohsina Kidwai from the Congress Party, Salim Ansari from the BSP, Naqvi and Akbar from the BJP and Ghulam Rasool Balyavi from the JD(U). Only BJP is renominating its retiring members from the Muslim community.
What Were They Thinking?
Behind the seemingly calm facade of the Rajya Sabha election, deep political machinations are at play for the limited number of vacant seats, and the top brass of each party selects those who curry favour or best serve their political agenda. Analysts are divided on why "secular" parties have not been able to accommodate a single Muslim candidate in their Rajya Sabha nominations, this time around.
While some experts are of the opinion that this omission, well, just happened in the larger scheme of things, others believe that parties had to prioritize other considerations over and above appeasing Muslims in the current climate.
Opinion is also divided on whether this snub will have consequences for the Congress Party, the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party, the leading regional parties in Uttar Pradesh, in the State Assembly Election, early next year.
Sudha Pai, a politics science professor at Delhi University, said that ignoring Muslims could be an affront to the middle-class and educated members of the community, but she doubts if the Rajya Sabha election resonates in the countryside, where the Lok Sabha election is a much bigger deal.
Further, Pai said, the Congress Party has not cultivated a Muslim face. "It is not a very good message but this does not really matter to the locals," she said.
Observers also feel that the Congress Party is so far behind in the electoral race that it really doesn't matter whether they nominate one Muslim to the Rajya Sabha or not. Among the two regional parties, BSP has never shared a scratch each other's back relationship with the Muslims.
BSP chief Mayawati has chosen Ashok Kumar Siddharth, a member of the Dalit community, who form her core constituency and Satish Chandra, a close confidant and a member of the Brahmin community, who make up 10 percent of voters in Uttar Pradesh.
And so, Ashutosh Misra, a political science professor at Lucknow University, said that it is really the SP which could be hurt by its decision to ignore the Muslims, especially since they will be contending with the anti-incumbency factor in the upcoming polls.
Observers find the omission graver considering that the SP's nominations include Beni Prasad Verma, who left the party to join the Congress Party and has now returned. Treating the Muslims so casually suggests that the SP is confident of getting their votes no matter how they behave, Misra said, pointing out the regional party does not have any Muslim representation in the Lok Sabha either.
"It is inexcusable and unpardonable that they could not find a place for one Muslim in seven nominations. They will be vulnerable to very serious attack," he said.
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