NDA candidate Harivansh elected deputy chairman of Rajya Sabha, comfortably beats Oppn nominee

In a boost to the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance(NDA), its candidate Harivansh, the 62-year-old first-time MP from the Nitish Kumar-led party, got 125 votes as against 105 polled by Hariprasad, who was the opposition nominee.

india Updated: Aug 09, 2018 22:46 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Rajya Sabha deputy chairman,Harivansh,NDA
Newly-elected Deputy Chairman of the Rajya Sabha Harivansh Narayan Singh at his office in New Delhi.(Arvind Yadav/HT Photo)

In a political and psychological victory for the government, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) candidate, Janata Dal (United) MP Harivansh, was elected deputy chair of the Rajya Sabha on Thursday, with the support of 125 MPs in the house of 244 MPs. The opposition candidate, Congress’ B K Hariprasad, got 101 votes.

The victory comes as a big boost for the government, especially since it does not have a majority in the upper house and has not had much luck in steering legislations through it. Both the chair, vice president M Venkaiah Naidu, and the new deputy chair come from the NDA stable, although their roles put them above partisan affiliations. The speaker of the Lok Sabha, Sumitra Mahajan, too, is from the NDA.

The electoral outcome reflected the hard political competition and cold arithmetic that marks the landscape ahead of elections in key states later this year and the Lok Sabha polls in 2019, as well as the continued edge the Narendra Modi-led NDA enjoys over an opposition that’s struggling to unite.

The subsequent proceedings in the house, after the outcome, however, also reflected a democratic spirit of collaboration and bonhomie in the polity.

The BJP itself has only 73 MPs in the house, which has an existing strength of 244. But it succeeded in keeping its entire NDA flock together, and winning over three key players --Naveen Patnaik’s Biju Janata Dal, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, and the Telangana Rashtriya Samithi - through careful preparation and investing political capital from the very top.

“Our party president had predicted 125 votes and we got exactly that. The numbers are a political and moral victory for us. It exposes the myth of the opposition unity. And it also shows at that a time when critics say BJP is getting isolated, we are able to expand our alliances and partnerships,” said a senior minister, who did not wish to be identified. “Ham haarne ki baazi nahin khelte.” (We don’t play to lose)

The opposition candidate, Hariprasad, was a last-minute pick after the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) decided not to put up a candidate on Tuesday. The NCP’s decision, in turn, was motivated by Sharad Pawar’s call to Patnaik, who made it clear to the former that the BJD would support the NDA candidate.

“Not putting up a candidate was not an option for us. The ruling side often seeks to create a consensus for such positions. But the NDA showed no such inclination and wanted to impose a choice on us. We had to challenge the BJP,” said a Congress leader who did not wish to be identified.

But having a Congress candidate meant that the party’s rivals -- like the Aam Aadmi Party -- would stay away. It also meant the enthusiasm levels of key regional actors like the Trinamool Congress might have dipped. For instance, two Trinamool MPs and three Samajwadi Party MPs were absent. The YSR Congress Party (YSRCP) also abstained from the vote.

Across the opposition ranks in Parliament on Thursday however, there were two key refrains -- how the BJD’s support to the NDA was a game-changer and how the opposition did not take the contest seriously enough. The Congress, however, sought to see a silver lining in the race and suggested that YSRCP and BJD’s visible softening towards the BJP would open up the opposition space for them in Odisha and Telangana respectively.

Observers pointed out that the outcome holds lessons for 2019.

Neelanjan Sircar, senior fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, said there were three broad takeaways from the election. “First, it shows that a grand pre-poll coalition bringing all parties together is not on the cards. There are intense contradictions among parties which oppose the BJP. Two, the outcome is not a complete reflection of the ground-level battles in politics. The BJD, for instance, may have voted for the BJP but both parties will fight each other on the ground in Odisha. And finally, it shows that the real game will open up post-polls, if and when no party is able to attain the majority mark of 273 (in the Lok Sabha.”

After the outcome though, leaders from across the spectrum came together to congratulate Harivansh , a long-time editor of Prabhat Khabar, a regional paper published out of Ranchi, and a former media advisor to the late ex- Prime Minister Chandrashekhar, who commanded respect across party lines.

PM Modi said, “Ab sab kuch Hari bharose hai (now, everything is dependent on Hari). And I am confident every member, on this side (treasury) or that side (opposition) will have his mercy.” Modi recounted his association with both Chandrashekhar and the late socialist icon and anti-Emergency crusader, Jayaprakash Narayan. Both Harivansh and JP (as he was popularly called) hail from Balia in UP.

Union minister and leader of the house Arun Jaitley, returned to the Rajya Sabha for the first time after a surgery in May, to much cheer and goodwill. He said, “In the house, he (Harivansh) has never made personal attacks on anyone. I am hopeful he will enhance the dignity of the house and maintain a balance between government business and the opposition raising issues of public importance.”

Leader of the Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad said that the deputy chairman does not represent any party. “I request him to look at the left and left of the centre.”

First Published: Aug 09, 2018 22:46 IST