Millennium Post

NDA's strategic pick

Although veteran BJP leader Muppavarapu Venkaiah Naidu publicly claimed that he did not want to be "Rashtrapati" (President) or "Uprashtrapati" (Vice-President) but only "Usha Pati" (husband of his wife Usha), politics is also the art of the unsaid and that was topped by a beaming Naidu indicating that he would be thrilled to be the NDA's pick. BJP's parliamentary board picked Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting as the party's nominee for the post of Vice-President, and his name has been endorsed by the NDA as well.

Naidu did indeed take the long route up the career ladder in the party, from joining the RSS shakha in his village just to play a rousing game of kabaddi as a 14-year-old in 1963, to supporting the Jan Sangh after hearing Atal Bihari Vajpayee speak at a public meeting in 1967, to joining the ABVP and the JP movement. As a student leader in Nellore, Naidu was instrumental in inviting Jayprakash Narayan to the area for a public meeting, just before the Emergency. Known as a fiery orator in Telugu, Naidu started a steady climb in the party hierarchy, becoming the spokesperson, general secretary and president of the Andhra Pradesh unit in quick succession. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, too, was fulsome in his praise of Naidu, tweeting: "I know Venkaiah Naidu Garu for years. Have always admired him for his hard work and tenacity. A fitting candidate for the office of Vice-President."

While there had been talks that Naidu was the choice for Vice-President, it was said that the nominee himself was reluctant to end his political career at this stage. But both Modi and Shah persuaded him for that. Given that the NDA is short of numbers in the Upper House and will not have a majority there until the end of this government's tenure; Naidu is expected to deftly handle the precarious position as the government seeks to clearly push through more of its legislative agenda in the next two years. The BJP also hopes that the choice of Naidu, who is from Nellore in Andhra Pradesh and has been a Rajya Sabha MP from Karnataka and has a residence in Chennai, would go a long way in smoothening its path in the southern states. With the NDA's presidential candidate Ram Nath Kovind hailing from Uttar Pradesh, it is hoped that the choice of Naidu will provide a North-South balance at the top of India's Constitutional pole.

Interestingly, the only time he confessed that he had any uncertainties about his choice of party was when a senior Congress politician told him that the Jan Sangh was a party of vegetarians. Naidu, famous for his hospitality and fondness for non-vegetarian food, went to senior Sangh leader Somayaji, who assured him that there were no such dietary restrictions in the Sangh. "You eat, and you can invite us to eat as well," he reportedly told Naidu, a story he shares with much relish. Besides, BJP's political and electoral ambitions in the south and the government's concern over managing the Rajya Sabha were prominent reasons behind Naidu's selection. The numbers for his election as Vice-President are on the BJP's side with some southern comfort from regional parties. Naidu is jovial with a penchant for alliterations and quips and is also a huge foodie who shows great pride in the sea food lunches he hosts for journalists and politicians across the spectrum.

Naidu is cut in the mold of the old BJP of Vajpayee and Advani and has excellent cross party relations which will stand him in good stead as he will also run the fractious Rajya Sabha as Chairman. The BJP and allies will not hit the majority mark in the Upper House until next year. In its three years thus far, the Modi government has often tried to bypass the Rajya Sabha because it has been in a minority. As Chairman, Naidu will replace Hamid Ansari with whom the Modi government had a taxing relationship. While President Ram Nath Kovind will be an unknown quantity for most politicians, Naidu has a solid network both with industrialists and with leaders of other parties with whom he has dealt with as BJP president. Perhaps, it is the still fragile situation of numbers in the Rajya Sabha which will resolve in their favour next year which decided it for Naidu.

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