UPA-Left nominee Hamid Ansari and the NDA-backed candidate Najma Heptullah on Monday filed their nomination papers for the vice president's post in the presence of their respective party leaders, setting the stage for a triangular battle for the first time between three Muslim candidates. The United National Progressive Front (UNPA) - as the third front calls itself - had fielded Rashid Masood last week. Monday was the last day for filing nominations for the August 10 vice presidential election.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress president Sonia Gandhi, Leader of the House in Lok Sabha Pranab Mukherjee and other UPA leaders escorted Ansari when he submitted two sets of nomination papers to Yogendra Narain, Returning Officer and Rajya Sabha Secretary General. A third set was filed later.
With the UPA-Left claiming the support of 406 of the 792 Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha MPs for Ansari, the BJP-NDA does not have the numbers to push Heptullah's candidature. "It is part of elections and the democratic process," the former deputy chairperson of the Rajya Sabha later told newspersons while reacting to queries that the numbers went against her. But to give her moral support, former Prime Minister AB Vajpayee, Leader of Opposition LK Advani, BJP chief Rajnath Singh and other prominent NDA leaders accompanied her to Narain's chambers.
However, the Shiv Sena and the Trinamool Congress - which broke ranks with the BJP in the presidential elections - were conspicuous by their absence. In contrast, UPA's Lalu Yadav came despite an attack of herpes and NCP's Sharad Pawar came straight from the airport to Narain's chambers to sign as one of Ansari's proposers.
Unlike his adversaries Heptullah and Masood, Ansari is a non-politician. While both Heptullah and Masood are former Congress leaders, Ansari is a career diplomat and a noted academician though he hails from a family that gave a president to the Congress party in 1927, much like Heptullah's did in 1923. "It is a great occasion," he said, after filing his nomination.
Asked how he would run the Rajya Sabha as its Chairman when he lacked political and parliamentary experience, Ansari said: "Any organisation is run on the basis of rules and regulations. Rajya Sabha has excellent rules and regulations." In fact, sources said Ansari is already apprising himself about all the material relating to the Upper House, including its rules and practices.
Reacting to queries that both the chairman and the deputy chairman of the Upper House would be from the minority community, Lalu said: "The community should be represented." Well-placed Congress leaders ruled out the possibility of changing the deputy chairman.
On her part, Heptullah said she would contact every MP to seek their vote. "I will even ask Masood. If I don't ask any member it means I don't value his or her vote. If the MPs vote, I will be thankful. If they don't, I will not be angry," she said. She dismissed the question that it was an invitation for cross voting. "The question of cross voting is there if there is a whip. There is no whip in this election," she said. She added she was well qualified for the post given her 27-year experience in the Rajya Sabha, including 17 years as presiding officer, and the varied tasks she handled on the international fora.
In a small sideshow to the nomination drama, after Ansari gave his first set of nomination papers along with an original certified copy of the electoral roll showing him to be a voter, the Returning Officer reportedly asked for a similar copy of the electoral roll - and not a photocopy - with the second set as well. It was then pointed out that in subsequent sets only photocopies are given.
As in the case of the presidential polls, nearly 20 non-serious candidates filed incomplete nomination forms which did not even carry the list of the requisite 25 proposers and 25 seconders. In a farcical exercise, Prem Singh from Haridwar listed out the entire Congress leadership, starting with Sonia Gandhi and Rahul as his proposers.