Karnataka: Fight for supremacy in the Upper House, uphill task for Congress

Currently, with 32 members, BJP is the single-largest party in the Council, followed by Congress with 29 and seven from JDS.
Indian National Congress flag used for representational purpose.
Indian National Congress flag used for representational purpose.Photo | PTI

Over a year after winning a thumping majority in the Karnataka Assembly, Congress hopes to soon regain supremacy in the 75-member Upper House of the State Legislature. That would ensure hassle-free passage of the Bills by the government and avoid political embarrassment for Congress.

Congress lacks a majority in the Council and the ongoing elections for 17 seats offer an opportunity to improve its position. For now, it looks difficult for the party to completely change the equations in the Upper House.

Currently, with 32 members, BJP is the single-largest party in the Council, followed by Congress with 29 and seven from JDS. Five seats are vacant, while one is an independent member.

As the Congress’ numbers are far below the combined strength of BJP-JDS, the government ran into rough weather over getting some Bills passed. In February this year, the Hindu Religious and Temple Endowments (Amendment) Bill 2024, which proposes to collect 5% of the gross income of temples with an annual gross income of over Rs 10 lakh and 10% from temples with a gross income of over Rs 1 crore, was defeated in the Council after it was passed in the Assembly. Though the Bill was later passed in the Assembly and Council, the development put the government in an uncomfortable position.

If a Bill is defeated in the Council, it can again be taken back to the Assembly and passed. But if it is referred to a House Committee in the Council, it can take a minimum of few months to complete the process. In July last year, the Agriculture Produce Market Committee (Regulation and Development) Amendment Bill was sent to the House Committee. The Bill to repeal the amendments made to the Act during the previous BJP regime allowing farmers to sell agricultural produce even outside the APMC yards was passed in February this year.

Disconcerting developments in the Council could be a thing of the past if Congress gets the majority after the ongoing polls or in the next few months when the government gets to nominate a few more members and the seat vacated by former CM Jagadish Shettar is filled. During his nine-month association with Congress, Shettar was elected to the Council from the Assembly in June last year.

Now, 11 members from the Assembly constituency will be elected on June 13. Based on its strength in the Assembly, Congress can get seven, BJP three and JDS one. The elections were necessitated as the term of six BJP, four Congress and one JDS MLC is ending.

Prior to that, on June 3, registered teachers and graduates will vote to elect three members each from the graduates’ and teachers’ constituencies. For Congress, the polls will be crucial as it needs to win most of those seats to improve its position significantly. Even some Congress leaders admit that it is a difficult task given the composition of the voters and constituencies going to the polls.

Karnataka, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh are the six states that have the bicameral system. Of the 75 Council members, 25 each are elected by members of the state Assembly and local bodies. Seven each are from graduates’ and teachers’ constituencies and another 11 members are nominated by the government.

The state legislative Council is almost like the Rajya Sabha and provides a platform for meaningful and constructive discussions to help the administration. Former Chairman of the Council VR Sudharshan says the Rajya Sabha enjoys constitutional protection, but the Council is at the mercy of the Assembly and it can be dissolved or revived by passing a resolution with a two-thirds majority.

According to him, after studying the utility and advantages of councils in six states, the Centre should come up with a national policy on councils and also a constitutional amendment to strengthen the system.

Former Council chairman BL Shankar too feels that like the Upper House at the national level, the Centre should have created councils in all the states. Now the parties are finalising their candidates for nomination to the Upper House. As they fight for supremacy in the Council, they should keep in mind the need for meaningful debates that can contribute to the society at large and ensure that the Upper House should not just end up being a place to accommodate leaders  for various other political compulsions.

Ramu Patil

Assistant Resident Editor

[email protected]

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