Close race for Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairman

The Deputy Chairman of the Rajya Sabha will be elected on August 9, House Chairman M. Venkaiah Naidu announced here on Monday.

While the Opposition has a slight edge over the ruling BJP and its allies, the outcome will be too close to call, with both sides attempting to poach members.

According to sources, the Opposition is in talks with NDA ally Shiv Sena, which has been vocal in its differences with the ruling BJP and did not vote during last month’s no-confidence motion. The Sena has three members.

The BJP in turn will try to break the Opposition ranks in a battle where every vote counts.

Surprise move

Mr. Naidu’s announcement took Opposition leaders by surprise as they had expected the government to put off the election. The post had fallen vacant after P.J. Kurien retired on June 30.

The Nationalist Congress Party’s Vandana Chavan and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s Tiruchi Siva are front runners from the Opposition. Though there has been no formal announcement, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ananth Kumar informally told Opposition leaders that first-time JD(U) MP Harivansh will be the NDA candidate.

Following the announcement, floor leaders of Opposition parties met on Monday evening. An erstwhile BJP ally, the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), was a significant presence at the meeting.

However, according to sources, no names were discussed. “We only took stock of how many members we have. The Congress did try to reach out to the BJD [Biju Janata Dal] but they were not accessible,” a senior leader at the meeting said. Opposition leaders are likely to hold another meeting at 1 p.m. on Tuesday to finalise a candidate.

Tough call

“Congress or the Opposition as such has not decided [on] any candidate. We are very clear that there should be a consensus candidate. We would prefer to have a Deputy Chairman from the Opposition party. It is not an issue which particular Opposition party the Deputy Chairman should belong to,” Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad said. The BJP is currently the largest party in the Upper House with 73 members. Along with its allies and supporting parties, which includes the Telangana Rashtra Samiti, the party has 102 votes.

The Opposition, however, has got a boost with former NDA allies TDP and the People’s Democratic Front joining its ranks. The Opposition now has 115 votes. The All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazgham which has 13 members, is likely to go with BJP. However, the party has not yet made its support official. Should the party join the NDA ranks, the tally will go up to 115.

Another regional player, the YSR Congress from Andhra Pradesh, has announced it will vote against the party.

The Rajya Sabha’s strength is 244. If the entire house votes, the winner needs a minimum of 122 votes. Adding to the uncertainty is the fact that there will be no whip from any party. According to sources, at least one member each from Trinamool Congress and Rashtriya Janata Party may vote for the ruling party.

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