Union Minister M Venkaiah Naidu will be the vice-presidential candidate of the ruling NDA, BJP president Amit Shah announced Monday. Naidu’s name was finalised at a parliamentary board meeting of the BJP on Monday evening, he said.
Naidu will take on Gopal Krishna Gandhi, the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi and the Opposition’s candidate, in the election on August 5 in which the BJP and its allies have a clear edge. Naidu is expected to submit his resignation as Cabinet Minister before filing the nomination on Tuesday.
With the exit of Naidu, who is in charge of Information and Broadcasting, and Urban Development, a Cabinet expansion or reshuffle is imminent with two other key portfolios also vacant: Defence and Environment. The Defence Ministry was vacated by Manohar Parrikar, who took over as Goa Chief Minister, and former environment minister Anil Dave passed away in May.
BJP sources told The Indian Express that Shah held discussions with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and top leaders of the RSS over the possible candidates last week, and spoke to Naidu on Sunday. Sources close to Naidu, whose career started with student politics in 1971, said he “was not very excited” and would have preferred to remain in active politics.
Naidu told one of his close friends that he wanted to be an “active politician” till his end, sources said. “He felt that becoming vice-president would be the end of his political career. He wanted to remain the voice of Prime Minister Modi and play a key role in making his ‘dream India’ a reality. He has conveyed it to the Prime Minister also,” said sources.
However, sources said, Shah told Naidu that the Prime Minister would talk to him on the issue and that he should not refuse the offer. Members from both Houses form the electoral college for the vice presidential election.
Incidentally, Naidu’s name was doing the rounds even for the presidential elections. But at the time, sources said, Modi conveyed to him that he would not like to “spare” any of his senior Cabinet colleagues. Ironically, sources said, it was Naidu who informed other seniors in the Cabinet about the Prime Minister’s views.
On Monday morning, the Prime Minister is learnt to have told Naidu that although he still held the same views, he had to keep in mind the “interests of the nation”, said sources. The Prime Minister then asked Naidu to take a decision by evening, they said.
Asked about his candidature in the morning, Naidu denied any such possibility. “I neither want to become Rashtrapati (President) nor do I want to become Uprashtrapati (Vice President). I am happy being Usha’s pati (his wife Usha’s husband).”
He then told someone who congratulated him: “Are you not my well-wisher?”
Last week, Shah had met RSS leaders, including Krishna Gopal, the pointperson for BJP, and Suresh Bhaiyyaji Joshi, general secretary, to get their inputs on the candidate.
According to sources, BJP’s political and electoral ambitions in the south and the government’s concern over managing the Rajya Sabha weighed in favour of Naidu.
“The Rajya Sabha has a number political heavyweights — P Chidambaram, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Digvijay Singh, Kapil Sibal etc., in the Congress; Ram Gopal Yadav in SP; Mayawati in BSP, etc. Both the Prime Minister and Shah wanted an experienced man of stature with flexibility and pragmatism to conduct the House smoothly,” said a party leader.
CPI-M leader Sitaram Yechury, whose tenure end soon, could also return to the House soon, the leader said.
The vice president serves as chairman of Rajya Sabha, the upper House, where the NDA is currently in a minority and has often found itself cornered in debates. Sources also said that the Rajya Sabha chairman heads Rajya Sabha TV, and Naidu’s experience as I&B Minister would be an advantage.
BJP leaders argue that Naidu’s election as vice president would also be a morale-booster for party cadre in the southern states, especially in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.
The BJP, which wants to discard its image as a north Indian party, has identified Andhra, where it is in a ruling alliance with TDP, and the TRS-ruled Telangana as a prime target area to win seats in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
The party is not in power in any other southern state but has launched a ‘South Mission’ to expand its base and strengthen its position electorally.