In a few days of time, the term of the members of the 16th Lok Sabha will end, after the 17th Lok Sabha is formed following the declaration general election results on 23rd May. And a month after that, the term of two Rajya Sabha members from Assam also come to end. This includes one of the most prominent members of Rajya Sabha, Dr Manmohan Singh, the former two-time Prime Minister of India, who is elected to the upper house from Assam.
On 14th June, the term of two Congress Rajya Sabha MPs from Assam, Manmohan Singh and Santiuse Kujur will end, but a huge question mark has emerged on the re-election of Dr Singh. Because as it has become certain that it will be very difficult for the Congress party to send him to the Rajya Sabha from Assam again, thanks to the debacle that the party faced in 2016 assembly elections.
Assam Assembly has 126 members, therefore the minimum number of votes required for a candidate to win will be 43 in an election for 2 seats. But the Congress party does not have this strength in the house. At present Congress has 25 MLAs in Assam, and even if the 13 MLAs of AIUDF votes for the Congress candidate, that will not be enough to ensure victory. Although both the parties do not have an alliance at present, AIUDF has helped the Congress party by contesting in just 3 seats in Lok Sabha elections, thereby preventing Muslim votes getting split between the two parties.
On the other hand, BJP has 61 MLAs, while its allies AGP has 14 and BPF 12, the NDA also has the support of the lone independent MLA in the house. This means that the NDA is set to grab both the seats from Congress. It is expected that AGP will get one seat in the two vacant seats, as per the deal resulting in the return of AGP to the NDA. Earlier this year, AGP had broken the alliance with BJP over the Citizenship Amendment Bill, but had returned to the alliance after the government failed to get the bill passed in the parliament.
Unless Dr Manmohan Singh is elected to the upper from some other state when the elections become due and where Congress has the numbers, this will mean an end of the parliamentary career of the former prime minister, who is often credited for the Economic Liberalisation that the P V Narasimha Rao government was forced to bring to save a collapsing economy.
Dr Manmohan Singh is representing Assam in Rajya Sabha since 1991, when he was selected to head the finance ministry by Rao. When the PVN Road government took the oath, neither the prime minister nor the finance minister was a member of the parliament. For a veteran politician like Rao, it was not an issue to get elected to Lok Sabha through a bypoll, which he went to win with a record margin. But for a bureaucrat like Manmohan Singh, Lok Sabha election was not feasible, hence it was decided that Rajya Sabha will be the best bet for him.
At that time, a Rajya Sabha seat was vacant in Assam, and Congress had won the assembly elections in 1991. So, Assam CM Hiteswar Saikia offered to send Dr Singh to Rajya Sabha from Assam, and the party accepted this offer. But there was a problem, at that time, candidates of Rajya Sabha election were required to be a voter in the state from where they were contesting, and obviously, Singh was not a voter of Assam. Chief minister Hiteswar Saikia formulated a solution to this problem, and made Dr Manmohan Singh a voter in Assam overnight. He gave a two-room apartment of his two-story house in Guwahati on rent to Dr Singh, and on the basis of that rent agreement, his name was included in the voter list of Assam. With these freshly prepared documents, the former prime minister gave a declaration in his nomination papers that he is a permanent resident of Assam, and thus he was elected to the Rajya Sabha. Since 1991, Dr Singh has been elected to Rajya Sabha from Assam for five consecutive terms.
The requirement of being a voter in the state for Rajya Sabha was removed in 2003 with an amendment to the Representation of the People Act, but Dr Singh chose to not transfer his vote from Assam even after that, and remained a permanent resident of Assam on records. Even now, his permanent residence is registered as House No. 3989, Nandan Nagar, Ward No. 51, Sarumataria, Dispur, Guwahati, Distt. Kamrup, (Assam) 781006 in government records.
He has never spent a night in his ‘permanent residence’, his VVIP status makes it difficult for him to stay there on security grounds. But he has visited his residence a few times, mostly when he visits Guwahati to file nomination for his Raya Sabha re-election, and to vote during elections. The residence is kept locked by the landlords, the Saikia family, for most of the year, which is opened only for cleaning and maintenance purposes. Dr Singh regularly pays the rent for the apartment, which was reported to be Rs 700 per month, way below the market rate.
As the Congress party does not have the numbers in Assam assembly, it is unlikely that they will field Dr Manmohan Singh in the elections. Talking on the issue, a senior Congress leader has said, “this time, it will not be possible for us to ensure victory even if we put up a candidate. So maximum possibilities are that we are going to refrain from putting up a candidate in the Rajya Sabha polls.” This means, the former two-time prime minister will not be returning to Rajya Sabha soon, as no Rajya Sabha election is due in next few months where Congress has the numbers.