V for Venkaiah, V for Vice-President: King of one-liners is BJP's choice
M Venkaiah Naidu will likely be the next Vice-President of India.
The 68-year-old from Nellore, Andhra Pradesh, will take on Gopalkrishna Gandhi, the former diplomat and Mahatma Gandhi's grandson, who is the Opposition's pick to replace incumbent Vice-President Hamid Ansari.
“The BJP Parliamentary Board unanimously chose Venkaiah Naidu as our Vice-Presidential candidate and all NDA allies have welcomed this decision. He has also accepted the nomination,” BJP president Amit Shah said at the press conference announcing Naidu's name.
Speculation was rife, and right
Naidu's name did the rounds even before the BJP came up with Ramnath Kovind's name as its Presidential candidate. But once Naidu was made part of the party's committee to liaison with other parties to chose a Presidential candidate, it became clear that he was not headed to the Rashtrapati Bhavan.
Publicly, the 68-year-old Naidu continued to maintain that he was not interested in a constitutional post. Known for his punchy one-liners, when asked if he was a contender for the post of the President or the Vice-President, Naidu had said: “I neither want to become Rashtrapati (President), nor do I want to become Uparashtrapati (Vice-President). I am happy being Usha's pati (Usha's husband).”
Good rapport with Modi
Naidu currently holds two key portfolios in the Union Cabinet, including the Information and Broadcasting Ministry and the Urban Development Ministry. The senior BJP leader from Andhra Pradesh, who started his career with the Jayaprakash Narayan movement, has been BJP president twice, beside serving in other key positions of the organisation.
Naidu is known to share a good rapport with Prime Minister Modi, and has not courted any major controversy in his long political career.
It was being speculated that Modi may come up with another surprise name for the Vice-President's post, and may not want to spare an important cabinet colleague. But after Naidu was chosen, ANI quoted the PM as saying: “A farmer's son, Venkaiah Naidu Garu brings years of experience in public life and is admired across the political spectrum.”
Shah also tweeted about Naidu's farming heritage, which is significant amid growing unrest among farmers across the country. It shows that the BJP is trying to present him as a face of the farmers, among other things.
By endorsing a farmer's son for the post of Vice President of India, BJP has honoured millions of farmers across the country.— Amit Shah (@AmitShah) July 17, 2017
BJP's man in the RS chair
Despite spectacular victories in Uttar Pradesh and Assam, the BJP has been struggling with numbers in the Rajya Sabha, and the situation will not improve till 2018, when it will gain about 10 seats in the Upper House. That the Opposition had an upper hand in the Rajya Sabha forced the government to introduce even crucial legislations like Aadhaar as Money Bill, which has invited severe criticism.
Four-time Rajya Sabha MP Naidu is known to share a good rapport with other parties, and with somebody like him set to become Chairman of the Rajya Sabha, it would definitely make things easier for the BJP.
He is not expected to cause embarrassment to the ruling dispensation like Hamid Ansari did for the UPA on 29 December 2011, when, at the height of the Janlokpal agitation, Ansari suspended the debate sine die at midnight, amid a lot of drama including a JD(U) MP tearing up a copy of the Lokpal Bill.
The numbers game
Unlike the electoral college for the Presidential election, which includes members of state legislatures, the Vice-President is chosen exclusively by Parliamentarians.
In the Lok Sabha, the NDA has 338 seats, of which 279 belong to the BJP itself. The ruling alliance also holds 74 seats in the Upper House, of which the BJP has 56. This adds up to a comfortable majority.
Perhaps this was the reason why the BJP was in no hurry to announce its V-P candidate, and waited for the Opposition to come up with its own first. In the presidential election, ceding space to the Opposition could have made the contest tighter, which the BJP avoided by announcing Ram Nath Kovind's name, which ensured that even Opposition leaders like Nitish Kumar could not oppose him.
Political message to the country
With the BJP looking to consolidate its base in southern part of the country, it was being speculated that the choice of the party leadership would be someone from that region.
Breaking the Congress-Communist duopoly in Kerala and making forays into Tamil Nadu have been high on Amit Shah's agenda. Among the south Indian states, it is only in Karnataka that the BJP has a strong presence. Naidu is the party's most senior and well-known face from south India.
Moreover, with Kovind, a Dalit, set for Rashtrapati Bhavan, the party was also advised to look for an upper caste candidate to mollycoddle its non-Dalit/backward voters and leaders. After all, the BJP has traditionally been a party of traders and other upper caste groups, which has only recently made deep inroads into the backward castes and Dalit votebank.
Naidu as Vice-President would also balance the caste arithmetic, with an eye on the 2019 General Elections.