It is the eve of Monsoon Session 2018, but the Upper House of Parliament does not have a deputy chief. The position has been vacant since Congress leader PJ Kurien retired from the Rajya Sabha on 30 June.
Conventionally, after the post of the Rajya Sabha deputy chairperson falls vacant, the election is held the following session. As Secretary General of Rajya Sabha Desh Deepak Verma tells The Hindu, it would be “against parliamentary propriety and also impractical” to delay the contest indefinitely. It is feared that the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) will do just this and justify the move saying the panel of six or seven vice chairpersons can officiate in the absence of the deputy.
The contest for the position of the Rajya Sabha deputy chairperson holds great significance at the moment as it will be the first platform where all major political parties will be involved ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Many believe that this election will be indicative of the political alliances that will come together for the General Elections.
Besides a brief three-year period when the Republican Party of India’s BD Khobragade held the office, the Rajya Sabha deputy chairman has always been a Congress leader. However, this time around, it is believed that the Congress has agreed to field a candidate from another Opposition party, indicating that it is willing to make any compromise if it means defeating the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
On 19 June, Chairman of the Rajya Sabha Venkaiah Naidu and Minister of Parliamentary Affairs Ananth Kumar held a meeting on the election to the vacant post, but there has been nothing from the government since then. Even the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs has not called for a meeting yet, and the schedule for the election has yet to be finalised.
Speculation is that the BJP is unsure whether its candidate will have the support of the majority in the 245-member Upper House. This is suspected to be the primary reason behind the delay in scheduling the election for the Rajya Sabha deputy chairman.
Opposition parties come together; BJP and allies meet
NDA partners and Opposition parties have held separate meetings to come to a consensus on candidates to nominate.
At the meeting of Opposition parties on Monday, the Trinamool Congress (TMC) made it clear that none of its members would be nominated for the post. Party leader Sukhendu Sekhar Roy was one of the names doing the rounds as a possible nomination earlier. This could gain the Congress support from the Left parties, which were against the idea of supporting a TMC nominee.
The Opposition has decided to field a joint candidate for the post of deputy chairperson, keeping the 2019 elections in mind. Besides Roy, the Nationalist Congress Party’s Majid Memon was believed to be another potential candidate. However, PTI quoted sources as saying that the parties did not discuss any particular candidate at the meet.
The BJP, with 69 members in the Upper House, is also wary that the election to fill the vacancy may bring to focus the cracks in the NDA — the friction with the Shiv Sena has been evident for months, and the BJP is right to be unsure whether it will have the party’s votes. Highlighting rifts in the NDA would not be in the best interest of the ruling regime, with less than a year left for the Lok Sabha elections.
This would explain the NDA’s hesitancy to announce its nominee, though Shiromani Akali Dal leader Naresh Gujral, son of former prime minister Inder Kumar Gujral, is the likely choice.
The Naveen Patnaik question
The Chief Minister of Odisha and Biju Janata Dal (BJD) president Naveen Patnaik could play the kingmaker in this election, with both sides vying for his support.
When it blew the election bugle in the state, the BJP had made it clear that it would fight to dislodge the BJD from power in Odisha in the 2019 elections. Now, the saffron party is hoping that Patnaik will opt to not back any party or support it, either way helping its side overcome the number crunch it fears.
The Congress, too, is hoping for Patnaik to support either a candidate fielded with Opposition consensus or field a nominee from his own party. The Grand Old Party will be on board with fielding a candidate from a regional party if it means the BJP’s defeat.
So far, the 71-year-old chief minister has not shown any favour for either side, having maintained equal distance from both for years. With no schedule in sight yet, it remains to be seen for how long the BJP will delay the election to fill the Rajya Sabha deputy chairman’s post.
The Monsoon Session, which begins on Wednesday, will have 18 sittings with several important bills on the agenda, including ones of triple talaq and establishing the National Medical Commission. A no-confidence motion and the usual chaos of the Parliament is expected.
Updated Date: Jul 17, 2018 21:04 PM