Coming Saturday, August 5, India will have a new vice-president. Veteran BJP leader and former Union Cabinet minister Muppavarapu Venkaiah Naidu— the ruling National Democratic Alliance’s (NDA) nominee for vice-presidential election— is seen as the frontrunner to succeed Mohammad Hamid Ansari.
Veteran BJP leader and India’s former minister of Information and Broadcasting; Urban Development; and Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation, is the most likely winner of this weekend’s vice-presidential election of India. If he wins or rather when he wins, he will be succeeding Mohammad Hamid Ansari, whose term ends on August 10. Ansari was the vice-president and ex-officio chairman of the Rajya Sabha from August 11, 2007, to August 10, 2012. He was re-elected to the post on August 11, 2012.
The election for the post of vice-president is scheduled for August 5, 2017 and results will be declared the same day. Naidu is contesting the vice-presidential polls against UPA candidate, former West Bengal governor Gopal Gandhi, who is also the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi.
Importance of the vice-president
The vice-president’s principal role is that of chairman of the Rajya Sabha. His discretionary powers are limited to showing a little extra indulgence towards some of the more voluble MPs and, perhaps, giving the Treasury benches a little elbow room. Also, he oversees the function of Rajya Sabha TV as well. The role of vice-president for the Modi government is crucial, as the BJP still lacks a majority in the Upper House and is expected to improve its tally towards the end of 2019.
Why is Naidu all set to win?
The vice-presidential contest is heavily stacked in favour of the ruling NDA. It has around 550 votes, out of a total of 790 members in both the Houses of Parliament, which form the electoral college for the election.
The electoral college that votes for the vice-president, who is also the ex-officio chairman of the Rajya Sabha, has 543 elected and two nominated members of the Lok Sabha, besides the 233 elected members and 12 nominated members of the Rajya Sabha.
First, just like President Ram Nath Kovind, Naidu has also risen from the ranks. But he is popular not only within BJP’s ideological mentor, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, but also among India’s wide political spectrum.
Second, the NDA has already nominated Ram Nath Kovind — who hails from Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh, north India— as the presidential candidate. To balance the regional factor, Naidu was the obvious choice. He fit the bill, hailing from the Nellore district of Andhra Pradesh.
Third, Naidu’s candidature shows that BJP is aiming to make inroads ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections in South India. The BJP in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections had contested 66 seats in the southern states of Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. It had won 21 of them— a strike rate of over 30 pc. The party’s southern expansion is expected to get a symbolic boost with a southerner as vice-president.
Fourth, Naidu has a long experience of the Upper House as he has been a fourth-term Rajya Sabha MP from Rajasthan. This stole the show for him as an ex-officio chairperson of the Rajya Sabha.
Naidu was elected first to the Rajya Sabha in April 1998. He was re-elected to the house in 2004, 2010 and 2016. He has been a member of several parliamentary committees and even chaired some of them.
Naidu honed his political skills, first at the RSS and later at the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (student’s wing of BJP), before he came to the spotlight through the Jan Andhra Movement in 1972.
Jailed during the national emergency between 1975 and 1977, Naidu rose to be BJP’s national general secretary. He hit the national scene when he was one of the prominent opposition spokespersons along with S Jaipal Reddy (who was then in the Janata Party) during the campaign by NT Rama Rao following his dismissal as the Andhra Pradesh chief minister, by Indira Gandhi in the 1980s.
He was BJP’s national spokesperson between 1996 and 2000. He rose to become BJP’s president in July 2002, a post he held till December, 2002. The second time was between January 2004 and October 2004.
For six decades Naidu has been immersed in the RSS ideology and has been involved in building the party as he believed in its ideology.
The Rajya Sabha has a number of political heavyweights, such as P Chidambaram, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Digvijay Singh, Kapil Sibal in the Congress; Ram Gopal Yadav in the Samajwadi Party, and so on. Both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Amit Shah wanted an experienced man of stature, with flexibility and pragmatism to conduct the House smoothly.
Therefore, all this ensured Naidu as the right choice for vice presidential candidate.
Rajya Sabha’s gain, Modi’s loss
While Naidu’s selection as a vice presidential candidate will be a bonus for the smooth running of the Rajya Sabha, it will likely be a loss for Modi. Naidu was a fire fighter for the Prime Minister, defending him on several issues.
King of political punches
Along with the above mentioned qualities and qualifications of Naidu, the other two unique hallmarks of the veteran politician are, that he is a great host in the capital inviting his party and cabinet, ministerial colleagues and journalists for lavish lunches at his residence. No other minster is as big hearted!
He also relishes non-vegetarian fare, and yet, rose from the ranks. “I told my journalist friends that I was the state (BJP) chief in Hyderabad and am also a non-vegetarian. Still, I became the president of the party,” he pointed out recently in Mumbai.
Ready with a barrage of one-liners, he retorts and rhymes, at press conferences and public rallies and have always evoked hearty laughter from the audience.
Sample the following:
- During UPA, it was PM presides, Madam or Boy decides. Now PM presides, Team decides!
- We say dynasty is nasty in politics, but Congressmen say dynasty is tasty.
- When we in the BJP chant Ram Ram Ram, the Congress chants scam scam scam!
- Zeros can’t find heroes. (When Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi gave a ‘zero’ to the NDA government’s performance, Naidu took him on)
A master of alliterations, his call to investors in Jharkhand was — “State is beautiful, people are dutiful, resources are plentiful, brand ambassador is powerful, chief minister is mindful, Prime Minister is helpful…”
If all goes according to plan, the Rajya Sabha proceedings under the chairmanship of Naidu will no doubt, be interesting to watch!