Yet again, the obstacles in the way of the so-called Mahagathbandhan came to the fore when the Congress candidate for the post of deputy chairman of the Rajya Sabha, B K Hariprasad, was defeated by the ruling combine’s Harivansh Narayan Singh. How serious is the blow to the Congress in particular can be realised from the fact that the Opposition is in a majority in the Rajya Sabha. Whether the Congress overplayed its hand fielding its own candidate instead of settling for someone from the allied parties, or it failed to enlist the support of the fence-sitters is hard to tell, but it is undeniable that the victory of the JD(U) candidate will come as a shot in the arm for the ruling combine.
Indeed, the Congress shot itself in the foot when it denied a fresh term to its Rajya Sabha candidate P J Kurien from Kerala, instead choosing to nominate the leader of the Kerala Congress. Had Kurien retained his RS seat, there is no question he would have continued as the deputy chairman of the Upper House as well. It was an avoidable self-goal. Worse, after deciding to field its own candidate, the Congress leadership did precious little to reach out to the other parties arrayed against the Government. In sharp contrast, the NDA leadership actively sought support of regional parties which were not part of the NDA but nonetheless remained chary of allying with the Congress. For instance, Naveen Patnaik’s Biju Janata Dal not only did not vote for the Congress candidate but it voted for the NDA candidate. Its nine votes made a vital difference, the victory margin of 20 being quite significant. The BJP was clever in not fielding its own candidate, choosing instead to field one from its ally, the JD(U). That way it killed two birds with one stone, putting at rest speculation about strained relations with the JD(U), and, more importantly, allowing the fence-sitters to vote for Singh without any qualms.
The Telangana Rashtra Samiti, for instance, would have been hard put to vote for a BJP candidate, given the sizable Muslim vote in the State, but it had no difficulty voting for the JD(U) candidate, especially after Bihar chief minister phoned TRS leader K Chandra Shekhar Rao for support. The YSR Congress, too, did not support the Congress candidate, choosing to absent from the vote. Yes, the Telugu Desam Party supported the Congress candidate. However, it does not, in any way, presage an electoral alliance in 2019 because, a) Congress has little support at the ground level in Andhra; b) an alliance with the party can, in fact, hurt the TDP in a State which is still not reconciled to its division by the UPA Government. The NDA cause was bolstered further when the ruling AIADMK decided to vote for its candidate, just as it had done in the recent no-trust vote in the Lok Sabha. The party’s thirteen votes made a huge difference to the final outcome. Given the unsettled issue of leadership in the post-Jayalaithaa AIADMK, it is any way safe for it to be on the right side of the ruling party at the Centre. That the deputy speaker of the Lok Sabha belongs to the AIADMK is another reason why the party should vote with the NDA.
On its part, the BJP leadership made some last minute overtures to the estranged allies such as the Akalis and the Shiv Sena in order for them to vote for the JD(U) nominee for the deputy chairman’s post. The Akalis were initially expecting that one of their members would emerge as the consensus candidate for the coveted post while the Sena has remained un-reconciled to the loss of Maharashtra chief ministership. On the other hand, look at the way the Congress leadership conducted itself after fielding its candidate for the RS deputy chairman’s post. Parties, which were openly hostile to the BJP, such as the Aam Aadmi Party and Mehbooba Mufti’s Peoples’ Democratic Front, abstained from the vote because there was no effort made by the Congress to seek their support. Under the circumstances, the Congress candidate had the votes of the Trinamool Congress, the Samajwadi Party, the BSP, DMK and the leftists and, of course, the TDP. This was not enough to see Hariprasad past the winning post. The NDA win underlines the fickleness of the regional parties which can switch sides depending on who has better chances of government-formation. Should the BJP fall short of the half-way mark by a few votes after the next Lok Sabha poll, it can rely on these footloose parties. The outcome of the contest in the RS also underlines the lack of trust and confidence in the current Congress leadership.