Venkaiah Naidu: from farmer's son to Vice-President of India
A south Indian leader who roots for Hindi; a farmer's son who finds loan waivers a 'fashion'. Muppavarapu Venkaiah Naidu, India's 13th Vice-President and only the second BJP man to hold the post after Bhairon Singh Shekhawat (2002-07), is a colourful character known for his oratory skills and a penchant for creating acronyms.
Initial speculation had put Naidu in the reckoning for the Presidential post, before the BJP eventually fielded former Bihar governor Ram Nath Kovind.
Then in Saturday's election, pitted against Mahatma Gandhi's grandson Gopalkrishna Gandhi, Naidu polled 516 votes as against Gandhi's 244.
Only Members of Parliament elect the Vice-President of India. Gandhi, the former Governor of West Bengal and a diplomat, was supported by the Congress, the Left parties, the Nationalist Congress Party, the Dravida Munetra Kazhagam, the Trinamool Congress, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the National Conference. The Janata Dal (United), which is now a part of NDA, had announced its support for Gandhi.
Born in 1949 in Nellore district of what is today Andhra Pradesh, Naidu cut his teeth in student politics. He came under the spotlight during the Jai Andhra movement of 1972, and went on to become the president of the students union of Andhra University a year later.
He was the convener of the Jai Prakash Narayan Kshatra Sangharsha Samiti of Andhra Pradesh, and actively participated in anti-emergency protests, for which he was imprisoned under the Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA), and remained behind bars for several months.
His political activism, coupled with his oratory skills, paved his way to the Andhra Assembly from Udayagiri in Nellore district in 1978, and again in 1983.
Making rapid progress within the party, he was the BJP's Andhra Pradesh unit president from 1988 to 1993, when he was appointed the party's national general secretary.
Serving various organisational posts in the party, he was elected to the Rajya Sabha from Karnataka in 1998. A minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, Naidu helmed the party as its president from July 2002 to October 2004.
As the Rural Development Minister in the Vajpayee government, Naidu pushed several reforms, including the 'Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana'.
Known for his sharp repartee and wit, Naidu also served as BJP spokesperson from 1996 to 2000.
Unlike most south Indian leaders, Naidu preferred speaking in Hindi in public meetings and media conferences.
He returned to the Union Cabinet under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as the Minister for Urban Development, Housing & Urban Poverty Alleviation, and Parliamentary Affairs. He also held the Information & Broadcasting ministry.
Not one to shy way from controversial remarks, Naidu has received flak from opponents on several occasions. In June, he had called Hindi the 'national language'.
“Hindi as Rashtra Bhasha (national language) is very important, we cannot do without it. Most people in our country speak Hindi, so learning Hindi is also important,” he had said in Ahmedabad.
His comments attracted rebuke from several quarters, with some reminding him that India doesn't have a single national language.
Naidu yet again kicked up a political storm when he said seeking loan waivers had become a 'fashion'.
“If one needs money, we will offer loans, banks will help. But seeking loan waiver has become a fashion these days,” he had said in June.
Naidu faced severe backlash for the remarks, which came amid the rising agrarian distress and farmer suicides.
He later sought to defend himself, claiming he was 'misquoted'.
V for Venkaiah, A for acronyms
It's not just controversial remarks – Naidu is equally famous for coming up with quirky acronyms.
For him, MODI means “Maker of Developed India”, while the electronic voting machine or the EVM is “Every Vote Modi”.
Addressing college students, he had said YOUNG meant “You Owe U and Nation Greatness”.
Addressing an event about India's “missile man” and former President APJ Abdul Kalam, Naidu had said his initials stood for “Anything is Possible with Just Attitude and Karma”.
Impact on Rajya Sabha
While his victory was almost assured, Naidu's elevation as the Vice-President and ex-officio Chairman of the Rajya Sabha, comes amid changing dynamics for the BJP in the Upper House.
While the NDA still is at a distance from gaining majority, the BJP, with 58 members, is now the single largest party in the Rajya Sabha. The party went past the Congress's tally of 57 after the election of Sampathiya Uikey from Madhya Pradesh.
Unlike the Lok Sabha, the going has been tough for the BJP in the Upper House. The government recently faced a major embarrassment when, owing to its MPs' absence, the Opposition managed to force the dropping of a crucial clause from The Constitution (123rd Amendment) Bill, 2017, on granting constitutional status to the National Commission for Backward Classes. Taking strong offence, BJP chief Amit Shah flayed the absentee MPs, and sought a written explanation from them.
Naidu's rapport with Opposition leaders and his experience as a Rajya Sabha member is expected to help him in running the House smoothly.
With Naidu as Vice-President, and Shah all set to enter the Rajya Sabha on 8 August via his home state of Gujarat, things are looking up for the BJP in the House.
The BJP's position will only improve in the coming years, as the party and its partners are in power in as many as 18 of the 29 states.