The outcome of the Rajya Sabha election for the post of Deputy Chairman came as a big jolt to the show of ‘unity’ of opposition parties advocating an alliance of ‘like-minded’ parties to stop Narendra Modi’s victory run when the nation goes to polls in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. At the time the election to the post was announced a month ago, few would have imagined that the ruling BJP government, which lacks majority in the Rajya Sabha, could stump the Congress candidate and get their man appointed to the top job. What emerged on Thursday when the Rajya Sabha met, was, however, quite contrary to what the Opposition, particularly the Congress, would have hoped for.
In an embarrassment for the Congress and the entire idea of a united opposition, several regional parties despite being vocal against the Modi government, opted to vote in favour of Harivansh Narayan Singh – the BJP-backed candidate for the post. And the man who scripted a smooth win for the BJP-led alliance in the Rajya Sabha was non other than Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar who is known as the ‘Chanakya’ of Indian politics.
So, how is it that the NDA, with a strength of 93 including those from the Shiv Sena, managed to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat? In the current Rajya Sabha strength of 244, excluding the Chairperson, a winning candidate required to secure at least 123 votes to win the election. Even though the BJP commanded the largest number of MPs in the House (73) and the Congress had 50, none of these two leading parties were in a position to secure a win on their own. It was always about getting the support of allies and regional parties held the key to victory.
A back-of-the-envelope calculation would show that the Congress would not have fared so badly had it managed to get the support of Naveen Patnaik’s Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and Jagan Mohan Reddy’s Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS). Both parties have 9 and 6 MPs in the Upper House, respectively. Add three MPs from Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party and AIADMK’s 13 and the Congress would have easily managed to emerge winners. But that was not to be.
When the division of votes was directed by Rajya Sabha Chairman Venkaiah Naidu, 125 MPs had voted in favour of NDA’s Harivansh whereas 105 MPs had shown faith in Hariprasad from the Congress.
Insult to Injury
While floor management skills is something that the Congress clearly lost out on, it appears that its lack of seriousness in keeping its own flock in order translated into this embarrassment. According to the Rajya Sabha Secretariat, a total of 16 MPs including 15 from the opposition camp, abstained from the voting on Thursday, thus giving an advantage to NDA’s Harivansh Narayan Singh. Three MPs each of Congress, Samajwadi Party and AAP; two each of TMC, DMK and PDP abstained from voting. The lone MP to do so from the NDA camp was NPF. This brought down the strength of the House to 232, and the majority figure to 117.
The second blow came when the BJD of Naveen Patnaik and TRS of K Chandrasekhar Rao announced their support to the BJP-backed candidate. The parties said that Nitish Kumar had personally called Patnaik and KCR to seek support for Harivansh Narayan. While the BJD has 9 MPs in the Rajya Sabha, the TRS has 6 MPs.
BJP’s disgruntled ally Shiv Sena, which had staged a walk-out during the no-confidence motion in Lok Sabha, also voted for Harivansh Narayan. According to the party, Nitish had also called Uddhav Thackeray ahead of the election to seek his support. The Sena has 3 MPs in the Rajya Sabha. The Tamil Nadu’s ruling AIADMK had also voted for Harivansh Narayan Singh.
The YSR Congress of Jaganmohan Reddy from Andhra Pradesh that has two MPs, were present in the House, but did not participate in the voting process. This also virtually helped the BJP to strengthen its position further. Had the YSR Congress MPs exercised their franchise, the gap between Harivansh and Hariprasad would have reduced to 18.
Behind BJP’s smoothsail.
The floor management by the BJP and its JD(U) pick worked well. While all 73 MPs of the BJP were present inside the Rajya Sabha at the time of voting, 15 MPs from the opposition abstained. When the division was done, 125 MPs had voted in favour of Harivansh whereas 105 MPs had shown faith in Hariprasad.
According to reports, Shah had personally counted each vote ahead of the voting on Thursday and announced that Harivansh will get the support of 125 MPs. Besides, he had also asked Nitish to seek votes for his aide even as the BJP was doing its bit.
Reports say that getting their own candidate elected to the post was a difficult task for Shah and Modi, therefore, the two decided to pick a candidate from Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) that has no representation in the Union Cabinet. This decision — seen as a masterstroke by Shah and Modi — resulted in uniting the NDA allies who always complain that BJP under Shah and Modi doesn’t care its allies like Atal Bihari Vajpayee did.