In 'Hari vs Hari' battle for RS deputy chairman, NDA's Harivansh has edge

On the eve of the election to the post of the deputy chairman of the Rajya Sabha, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) strategists exuded confidence that Rajya Sabha members of the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) would be voting for National Democratic Alliance (NDA) nominee. Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik-led BJD's nine Rajya Sabha members hold the key to the extremely close election.

Sources said Prime Minister Narendra Modi had phoned the Odisha CM to seek his party's support for NDA's nominee, Harivansh. There was no official word from the BJD.

According to BJP sources, Harivansh was assured of the support of 126 MPs in a House of 244. The winning mark is 123. They said Opposition nominee B K Hariprasad was unlikely to get more than 111 votes.

The Congress-led Opposition was busy making last-minute calls to ensure that its nominee, Hariprasad, puts up a close fight. Its leaders have appealed to Patnaik to have his MPs abstain from voting.

Janata Dal (United) MP Harivansh, the BJP-led NDA’s nominee and Congress Rajya Sabha MP Hariprasad, the Opposition nominee, filed their respective nomination papers in the morning, with the battle being billed as “Hari versus Hari”.

In its list of 126, BJP strategists have included the 9 BJD MPs as well. BJP strategists claimed that apart from the 91 MPs of the NDA, Harivansh would also be backed by regional parties like the AIADMK (13 MPs), Telangana Rashtra Samiti (6 MPs), YSR Congress Party (2 MPs) and Indian National Lok Dal (1 MP).

However, YSRCP MP Vijay Sai Reddy claimed that his party’s two MPs, including himself, would be voting for the Congress candidate. The INLD is yet to make its stand clear. It had voted against the Modi government in the no-confidence motion in the Lok Sabha last month.

No whip is issued for the election to the post of deputy chairman of the Rajya Sabha, and there is the likelihood of defections within the Opposition ranks. The Shiv Sena said its three MPs would vote for the NDA nominee despite the party’s recent differences with the BJP.

Opposition sources said at least three of the four Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) MPs would reach Delhi by Thursday morning to take part in the voting. The MPs had headed to Chennai when DMK chief M Karunanidhi passed away on Tuesday. It is not certain if M K Kanimozhi, Karunanidhi’s daughter and a Rajya Sabha MP, would be able to travel to Delhi.

Hariprasad has the support of 61 MPs of the Congress-led UPA, 13 members each of the Trinamool Congress and the Samajwadi Party, six MPs of the Telugu Desam Party, five of the CPI(M), four each from the Bahujan Samaj Party and the DMK, two of the CPI and one MP of the Janata Dal (Secular), adding up to 109 members. K T S Tulsi, a nominated MP, and an independent MP are also likely to support Hariprasad’s candidature.

The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which has two MPs, has announced that it will abstain. The Aam Aadmi Party has three MPs and expressed its unhappiness that the Congress hasn’t reached out.

AAP sources said the party had supported Congress’ presidential and vice presidential candidates, but the Congress didn’t have the “decency” to publicly acknowledge this, and again wants AAP’s “clandestine” support for its deputy chairman nominee. It asked if Congress president Rahul Gandhi can hug the PM, why is it that he cannot reach out to AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal.

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