For the first time since 1984, no minority party has captured at least 10% of the Lok Sabha, creating potential conflict between Section 121 of the house rules and an act from 1977. The former stipulates that a party has to have at least 10% of the seats to be recognised as a parliamentary group, whereas the latter recognises the Leader of the Opposition as an official position. Regardless of whether this conflict is solved, the real opposition to the Modi government will be in the Rajya Sabha, where the Bharatiya Janata Party has just 46 of 250 seats. The Congress Party has 68 seats, more than the BJP-led National Democractic Alliance’s strength of 59. The BJP will have to find allies to smoothly push its legislative agenda.

Joint sessions
The Constitution allows the President of India to call for a joint session of the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha to approve legislation that fails to pass both houses. Such sittings are rare in India’s history – only three have ever been called: in 1961, 1978 and, most recently, in 2002 to pass an anti-terrorism legislation that was later repealed. This requires action by President Pranab Mukherjee, a close friend of the Gandhi family and former member of the Congress party, before becoming President and thus becoming officially non-aligned. Should Modi’s administration persuade Mukherjee to call such a session, the numbers will favour the BJP.

A joint session would have a combined strength of 795: 545 Lok Sabha members (543 elected, 2 appointed) and a maximum of 250 Rajya Sabha members (there are currently just 240 sitting members). The BJP-led NDA could then combine its forces for a total showing of 393 seats (334 Lok Sabha + 59 Rajya Sabha). At present numbers, that is a simple majority and if any more of the Rajya Sabha seats are filled, only a few more votes would be needed. Easy work for a party riding the victory they just achieved at the polls. The only area of law where a joint session cannot be called is on Constitutional amendments and on matters of impeachment and emergency.

An opposition of purpose
While Manmohan Singh stepped down as Prime Minister on May 17, he remains the leader of the majority party in the Rajya Sabha. Whoever leads the Congress in the Rajya Sabha will have to balance their desire to disagree with Modi’s government with the reality of their situation: they are only a formality away from being made completely obsolete. This could work in the favour of efficient governance, giving Congress and its allies in the Rajya Sabha leverage to negotiate concessions, but not outright veto any particular legislation. Only three joint sessions in India’s entire history make such a disruptive move feel drastic, but already this historic election has proven that the politics of Modi’s mandate have little regard for trends. Even with an overall majority, the opposition will have little authority over matters of money bills, for which the Rajya Sabha can only recommend changes to Lok Sabha proposals. If none of those changes are implemented, the legislation passes both houses anyway.

As far as the composition of the Rajya Sabha, not much is set to change in the near future. Members are elected by state legislatures. In the next two years, only 24 Rajya Sabha members have their terms expiring and, of those, the BJP could realistically expect to gain two or three based on party control of the seats available. Gazing further into the future becomes murky.

Even in the Rajya Sabha, the entire anti-Modi element only holds 107 seats  – not a majority. So while there is room for them to make their voice meaningful, it must be done with political savvy. Many parties will decide to support legislation or not based on whether they like it, and not because of a blanket support or opposition to the Modi government.