Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairman election exposes chinks in Opposition's armour

Deputy Chairman of Rajya Sabha Harivansh (right) flashes the victory sign as Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad looks on, outside Parliament. Photo: PTI
As predicted by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leadership on the eve of the election, BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) nominee for the post of Rajya Sabha deputy chairman comfortably defeated the Opposition nominee.

The win exposed the chinks in the Congress party’s ability to rally regional parties, and underscored the ability of Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah to display political flexibility when the situation demands. The contest was seen as a test of Opposition unity in the build-up to the 2019 elections. However, Opposition leaders insisted the result was not a portent for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, but did add to the BJP's carefully crafted image of invincibility.

In the run-up to the election to the post of deputy chairman, Modi and Shah understood that the numbers in the Rajya Sabha would be stacked against them if they were to field a BJP Member of Parliament (MP), and instead opted for ally Janata Dal (United)’s Harivansh as the NDA nominee.

Harivansh Narayan Singh's candidature enabled Shah and other BJP strategists to convince upset allies like the Shiv Sena and Shiromani Akali Dal, but also some of the regional parties to support Harivansh. These were All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, Biju Janata Dal (BJD), and Telangana Rashtra Samithi.

According to sources, the YSR Congress Party (YSRCP) was also prevailed upon to ensure that its two MPs abstained from voting. The YSRCP had earlier decided to vote for the opposition candidate. YSRCP chief Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy is facing graft cases.

As the BJP leadership unleashed its carefully-planned strategy, the Congress could not convince any of the Opposition parties to field one of their MPs.

Trinamool Congress (TMC) refused to field Sukhendu Sekhar Roy days before the election. Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar said his party MP Vandana Chavan wouldn’t contest in a losing battle. This was after Pawar came to know that the PM had reached out to BJD chief Naveen Patnaik, and the result was a foregone conclusion with nine BJD MPs voting for the NDA nominee.

According to Opposition sources, some of them had suggested to the Congress they should agree to a Telugu Desam Party (TDP) MP being the opposition candidate. They said this would give them an outside chance to galvanise regional parties in favour of the opposition candidate. The TDP was willing but the Congress disagreed and wanted to field one of its own.

In the event, NDA candidate Harivansh received 125 votes, while Opposition’s B K Hariprasad got 101 votes, with two members of YSRCP  abstaining, taking the total votes cast to 232. This is the first time in 41-years that a non-Congress MP has been elected Rajya Sabha deputy chairman.

The Rajya Sabha’s current strength is 244 and 16 members were absent. All three MPs of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) were absent and so were two MPs of the Peoples’ Democratic Party.

The AAP decided its MPs will be absent after the Congress didn’t accede to its condition that Congress President Rahul Gandhi phone party chief Arvind Kejriwal to seek support. Congress sources said its other senior leaders did call Kejriwal, but the Congress didn’t want to upset its Delhi leadership for a lost cause.

Three MPs of the Congress party were also absent, including T Subbarami Reddy and Viplove Thakur. Congress MP Ranee Narah was also absent, with party sources stating she could be planning to quit the party in the run-up to the Lok Sabha polls.

Among TMC MPs, two were absent, including Manas Bhunia and K D Singh. The PDP had already announced that its two MPs would be absent. Of the four Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam MPs, only two returned after their leader M Karunanidhi’s passing away in Chennai.

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