That the NDA had an edge in the election for the post of Rajya Sabha deputy chairman was a fact that was even accepted by the Congress. But the Opposition was still expected to secure at least 118 votes. The last-minute change of heart of the AAP and YSRCP and the surprise disappearance of some Opposition members dashed its hopes of making it a tight contest with the joint opposition candidate B K Hariprasad managing to secure just 101 votes.
At last count, NDA candidate Harivansh had 125 votes. There were 18 absentee MPs, among them one from NDA ally NPF, and two who abstained.
Three members of the Congress – T Subbarami Reddy, Ranee Narah and Viplove Thakur – did not turn up for voting. While Reddy was in hospital, Thakur was abroad. Narah, who was spotted in Parliament, told The Indian Express that she was with her husband who was in hospital. Two members of the TMC – K D Singh and Manas Bhunia – too were absent.
The Congress had expected three of the four DMK members (barring Kanimozhi) to turn up. While Tiruchi Siva and T K S Elangovan voted, R S Bharathi did not turn up. Another prominent absentee was SP’s Jaya Bachchan. She was recently bereaved. Businessman Rajan Nanda, who died earlier this week, was her daughter Shweta’s father-in-law.
Sources said two other SP MPs, Chandrapal Singh Yadav and Beni Prasad Verma, too did not turn up to vote. Neither did the two PDP MPs Mir Mohammed Fayaz and Nazir Ahmad Laway.
Besides absenteeism, abstentions and old political scores put paid to the Opposition’s hopes of putting up a strong fight. Three AAP MPs stayed away from voting, a day after its senior leader and Rajya Sabha member Sanjay Singh made a public commitment that the party would vote for opposition candidate B K Hariprasad should Congress president Rahul Gandhi call Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal.
The YRSCP, which had announced it would vote against the BJP candidate, also abstained.
The TMC was tight-lipped about the absence of Singh, whose diverse business interests have been under the government scanner. On Bhunia, party sources said he had an important tribal event in his constituency. “He informed us and we, in turn, informed the Congress. If it was a matter of one or two votes, it would have mattered. Anyway we made up for it,” said a party MP. The reference was to independent MP Ritabrata Banerjee, who has been operating in the House along Trinamool lines.
However, many Opposition parties felt that the outcome would have been different had the Congress agreed to go with a candidate from some other party like the TDP. Also, the demand from AAP that Rahul call up Kejriwal was justified and could have been acceded to, they said.
“Three senior Congressmen spoke to him, but I think it is a fair expectation for one party chief to get a call from another. The NDA put all their might into the fight, the PM himself called up party chiefs,” said an Opposition MP. Bihar CM Nitish Kumar too made calls to parties to support NDA candidate Harivansh, who is an MP from his party.
In fact, among the calls he made was the one that Rahul did not make — to Kejriwal. Kejriwal, sources said, declined to vote for the NDA candidate. NCP chief Sharad Pawar too had reached out to some parties — it was after his conversation with Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik that the NCP decided not to field its own candidate.
Denying that the deputy chairman election had exposed the vulnerabilities of the combined opposition that is hoping to take on the NDA next year, Trinamool Parliamentary Party leader Derek O’Brien said: “Nothing of that sort. Today’s election just showed the desperation of the NDA to win a match. This is just a warm-up match before the World Cup. In the World Cup, the voters are different.”