The wresting of the post of deputy chairperson of Rajya Sabha by the ruling NDA, the trouncing of the Opposition’s candidate on Thursday, is a telling political moment. Ever since the BJP-led combine swept to power in 2014, and established its dominance in the Lok Sabha, the Rajya Sabha has been a forum where the Opposition voice was not subdued by the Modi mandate, where it could still be heard and heeded. The Opposition felt supported and encouraged by the arithmetic in a House where the NDA does not have a majority. Yet, on Thursday, it was outmanouevred and overtaken in this space as well. This is an especially cruel cut for the parties that aim to take on the BJP in the run-up to the next general election in 2019, when every contest matters, each verdict is amplified and there is much talk of Opposition unity. Given the several, clashing agendas of the parties that occupy this space, even those most enthusiastic about its prospects bank on arithmetic, rather than chemistry. But in the Rajya Sabha on Thursday, it was the NDA candidate, Harivansh Singh, who squarely won the numbers game.
By all accounts, the Opposition was its own enemy. It could neither fully rally its own troops, nor win over the fence-sitters. The defeat of its candidate, BK Hariprasad, was made up of the absenteeism from within the ranks of the SP, TMC, DMK and Congress, apart from the cross-overs of parties such as the BJD and the TRS, who were not part of the NDA and could have voted against it. The strategic abstention of the YSRCP and the staying away of the AAP and PDP from the vote, completed the Opposition’s comeuppance. On the other side, the BJP not only managed to persuade the ditherers outside the NDA to vote for its candidate, it also quelled, for now, the rebellion within. At least two of its publicly restive allies, the Shiv Sena and the Akali Dal, cast their lot with it. The day after, then, it seems clear that while the BJP-led NDA was fleetfooted and alert in putting together the numbers, employing telephone diplomacy and the stratagem of letting its ally, JD(U), put forward its candidate, the Congress-led Opposition apparently neither made the calls nor had a plan in place.
Much of the Opposition failure is made up of Congress’s heavyfootedness and haughtiness. The party still seems to live in a bygone era when it did not need to be constantly on its feet, and actively woo and placate allies, to make up the numbers. This continuing lack of fit, showcased in the polls in Rajya Sabha on Thursday, is a problem for the Congress. It is also a warning for the mahagathbandhan that aims to take on the BJP in 2019.