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With the next President almost chosen, who will BJP pick for Vice President?

Akash Bisht | Updated on: 1 July 2017, 14:20 IST
(Arya Sharma/Catch News)

The debate over who would be the next President of India is almost settled and now all eyes are set on the next round of elections. Legislators from both Houses of Parliament will elect the new vice president of India on 5 August.

In the run up to the VP elections, the likelihood of the Opposition and the ruling BJP yet again sparring to get the support of legislators from both houses of the Parliament is certainly on the cards.

However, an overwhelming majority in the Lok Sabha gives BJP a decisive edge over its opponents and the possibility of the saffron party getting one of their own to replace incumbent VP Hamid Ansari is almost a certainty.

With the Opposition terming the two elections as a battle of ideologies, it is unlikely that it would go down without a fight despite being well aware of ending up on the losing side. Ansari's term expires on 7 August and the contest for who replaces him would be more or less a formality.

What would be interesting to see is who Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP President Amit Shah see fit to occupy the post of the Chairman of Rajya Sabha where the ruling combine is still in minority.

As far as the names of the possible candidates are concerned, it is too early to predict. Considering the fact that both Modi and Shah do not even discuss the names with their party colleagues, any speculation is futile. However, what seems like a certainty is Modi's resolve to create history by nominating a Dalit-tribal duo to lead the two offices.

Permutations, combinations

While Kovind, a Dalit, has already been nominated for the post of President, the possibility of a tribal being nominated for the post of VP looks almost certain.

This combination gives the prime minister an opportunity to reach out to these two segments that feel completely isolated under the ruling dispensation. It will also help the PM give a befitting reply to the Opposition that has accused him of being anti-Dalit and anti-tribal.

The other crucial qualification needed for any candidate is that he/she should have an RSS background.

If there is one tribal who fits the bill, it is former deputy speaker, Kariya Munda, who has been an RSS man for decades and has administrative experience as well. What works in 80-year-old Munda's favour is his austere lifestyle which earned praise from the PM himself.

Even Jharkhand Governor Draupadi Murmu, a tribal from Odisha, who was earlier speculated to be Modi's choice for the President, also fits the bill. However, Munda holds an edge over her considering he came to BJP from RSS while Murmu made a direct entry into the party.

Amid these speculations, sources have informed that the possibility of Modi-Shah duo zeroing in on someone either from south or north-east is not being ruled out completely. BJP has failed to make any inroads in the southern states and VP election gives them an opportunity to appeal to this section of the electorate that has been out of BJP's grasp since the Independence.

It is in this context that Maharashtra Governor, C Vidyasagar Rao, is also being considered as the party's candidate for the next VP.

Similarly, though BJP is making its presence felt in the north-eastern states, it would want to send a strong signal to the people in the region. Considering four states from the region go to polls in 2018, BJP could use this opportunity for electoral gains.

Meanwhile, the Opposition has not even started discussions on its candidate for VP's post and it remains to be seen whether they will adopt the same strategy as it did while naming its presidential candidate.

If it does, it would only be contesting for the sake of it without making any attempts to turn it into a close contest.

BJP would want a strong candidate for the post; someone who can handle the political stalwarts in the Opposition and at the same time ensure the smooth running of the Upper House which has witnessed multiple disruptions in the last three years.

The right card at the right time

Earlier this week, the Election Commission announced 5 August to be the day of the voting and the results would be declared the same day. Under these circumstances, it remains to be seen whether the Opposition and BJP play the same game of holding their cards close to their chest till the last moment as it happened with their presidential candidates.

Both BJP and the opposition announced their candidates few days before the last day of filing nominations keeping all stakeholders in the dark.

However, this strategy backfired for the Opposition which fell into the trap laid by the BJP. The prime minister played a masterstroke by fielding Bihar Governor Ram Nath Kovind as their nominee for the post of the president which found many takers including Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar.

What stunned the united Opposition was Nitish extending support to Kovind which has made presidential election a one-sided contest.

Will the VP election see the same pattern is something still within in the realm of speculation?

It would be interesting to see whether the Opposition would repeat its mistake of waiting for the ruling combine to announce their candidate.

Too late?

The Opposition came under severe criticism for playing the waiting game and not declaring its presidential candidate early on which, according to experts, could have given them enough time to reach out to other political parties and garner their support. Whether they will revisit their strategy this time around is anybody's guess.

First published: 1 July 2017, 14:20 IST