Rajya Sabha deputy chairman polls: Time for Rahul Gandhi to hug his 2019 dreams goodbye?

The election once again shows that the BJP fights to win, and the Congress has a lot to learn from it.

 |  5-minute read |   09-08-2018
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For the Opposition in Indian politics, things repeatedly fall apart, the centre just cannot hold. And this undependable, collapsible centre is the Indian National Congress.

The Rajya Sabha deputy chairman election on August 9 saw the Opposition come close, yet remain firmly away, from scoring a victory over the BJP.

JD(U) MP Harivansh Narayan Singh is the new Rajya Sabha deputy chairman. V for victory: JD(U) MP Harivansh Narayan Singh is the new Rajya Sabha deputy chairman. (Photo: India Today)

The poll outcome had hinged on the fence-sitters, of which the BJD, the TRS and the AIADMK backed the NDA, while the YSR Congress abstained.

With this, the Chairman as well as the deputy chairman of the Upper House are now from the NDA. The Congress had held this post for the past 41 years. The Rajya Sabha has in a way been the last bastion for the Opposition, as the NDA is still not in a majority there. Thursday’s election results are set to make the BJP’s life in the Upper House easier.  

The latest poll results underline some truths that have been apparent for a while now, which the Opposition can now ignore at very great peril.

First, the BJP fights to win. Whether it’s a state election, a by-poll, a Trust motion or a contest for a constitutional post, the BJP displays the same focus and the same hunger ­— no stone unturned, no loose end unattended.

Second, a “rainbow Opposition coalition” remains an elusive dream, a massive Eliot-esque shadow between its conception and its creation.

Third and most important, the Congress needs to get its act together, if it plans to pose any kind of a serious fight to the BJP. While the BJP works for every seat, every vote, the Congress seems to vaguely hope that things will fall in place.

How the battle was lost and won

The term of the last Rajya Sabha deputy chairman, PJ Kurien, ended on June 30. Rumbles about the Opposition putting up a joint candidate against the NDA had begun since then.

Rahul Gandhi seeme to have lost this spirit of bonhomie, as he failed to call up Arvind Kejriwal for support. Rahul Gandhi seems to have lost this spirit of bonhomie. He failed to call up Arvind Kejriwal for support ahead of the election. (Photo: Twitter)

The BJP is in majority in the Lok Sabha, while the Rajya Sabha chairman, the Vice President of India, is Venkaiah Naidu, a former senior leader of the BJP. The election was more important for the Opposition than for the BJP, not just for the post, but also as a morale booster.

The BJP holds an absolute majority in Parliament and is in power in most states, is hugely popular across the country, and has a reputation for “arrogance” in dealing with its allies.

The only way the Opposition camp had a fighting chance in this election, or in 2019, is if all parties cooperate and coordinate.

Yet, the BJP managed to put up a consensus candidate from the NDA, reached out to fence sitters, and convinced them to support it — while the Opposition could only watch.

The Opposition had been trying to put up a candidate from the UPA and not the Congress, so that s/he could be supported even by parties outside of the alliance, and by those regional parties who are fighting the Congress in their own states.

After deliberating over the name of TMC’s Sukhendu Sekhar Roy, they almost decided on NCP’s Vandana Chavan, but the plan fell through after they failed to secure the support of Odisha’s BJD, with key nine members. The Congress, thus, was forced to go with party leader from Karnataka, BK Hariprasad.

The BJP was having its own share of ally troubles — the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra has been unhappy for a long time, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) was miffed because its leader was not chosen as the candidate, Nitish Kumar of the JD(U) has always been a tricky customer.

The party ironed out the issues smoothly — it chose JD(U) MP Harivansh Narayan Singh for the post, to blunt the charge of not accommodating allies, and to ensure that the candidate was acceptable to regional parties, once again managed to ensure that the Sena does not vote against it, and also placated the SAD.

In Odisha, party chief Amit Shah has been attacking the BJD government with gusto. Yet, Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself stepped in to call party chief and state CM Naveen Patnaik, to secure the backing of the BJD’s nine crucial MPs.

On the other hand, Congress president Rahul Gandhi failed to make a call to AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal, whose party holds three berths in the Rajya Sabha.

While the Opposition has been hoping to pluck Nitish Kumar out of the NDA's fold ahead of 2019, by nominating his party member for the post, the BJP ensured Kumar actively worked to ensure an NDA victory, cementing his position within the alliance.   

The BJP is a party that manages to win votes on the ground, and is not too dependent on allies. The Congress has negligible ground-level strength in many important states and is totally backing on regional satraps.

While the BJP has been attacking the BJD consistently in Odisha, the two parties joined hands when it mattered. While the BJP has been attacking the BJD consistently in Odisha, the two parties joined hands when it mattered. (Photo: PTI/file)

Yet, the BJP managed to reach out to not just the allies but also the non-Congress, non-BJP supporters. The Congress is seemingly too arrogant to forget the defeat at the hands of the AAP in Delhi and the role Arvind Kejriwal played in hollowing out the UPA II’s roots during the India Against Corruption movement.  

The NDA issued a whip to all its members to remain present, even the unwell Arun Jaitely turned up. The Opposition lost out on three key votes as two from the DMK and one from Trinamool Congress did not vote.

The Rajya Sabha deputy chairman election has made this amply clear — as a fighting machine, the UPA is not a patch on the BJP.

The fulcrum of the Opposition alliance has been the Congress, by virtue of being a national party. It is definitely not up to the job.

But with the Congress removed from the equation, the camp becomes a gathering of equals, with Mamata Banerjee, Mayawati, K Chandrashekar Rao, all nursing PM ambitions.

The BJP’s running narrative has been that the country has no tangible political alternative to Modi. The dynamics of the August 9 election lend some support to their argument — it is hard to believe that an alliance which could not put up a candidate for the Rajya Sabha deputy chairman's election will agree, in a coherent and focused manner, to come up with a strong PM candidate.

If the Opposition wants 2019 to be any kind of contest at all, it needs to put its house in order. Or Rahul Gandhi can hug his power dreams goodbye.

Also read: TRS open to post-poll alliance with BJP: Which side the Telangana CM is actually going to choose


Yashee Yashee @yasheesingh

Senior sub-editor, DailyO

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