Amid a bitter political battle raging between the BJP-led NDA government and the Opposition, parliamentarians will vote Saturday to elect the next Vice-President of India in a contest of competing ideologies between the NDA candidate, Jagdeep Dhankhar, and the Opposition nominee, Margaret Alva.
The numbers in the Vice-Presidential poll are stacked heavily in favour of Dhankhar and it is to be seen whether the Opposition will be hit again by cross-voting like what was witnessed in the Presidential election last month.
The Opposition camp is evidently divided once again. The Trinamool Congress (TMC), the second largest Opposition party after the Congress in Parliament with 36 MPs in both the Houses, has decided to abstain from the Saturday vote. While the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), TRS, AIMIM and JMM have announced their support for Alva, the BSP and TDP have decided to back Dhankhar.
The JMM, which rules Jharkhand in alliance with the Congress and other parties, had supported the NDA’s candidate, Droupadi Murmu, in the Presidential election, who became the first tribal to become the President of India.
Both the YSRCP and BJD, with a combined tally of 52 votes, have decided to back Dhankhar. The two parties had backed the NDA nominee in the Presidential election as well.
Votes will be counted Saturday itself and the next Vice-President will take oath of office on August 11 – a day after the term of the incumbent V-P M Venkaiah Naidu ends. The electoral college for the V-P polls comprises a total of 788 members of both Houses of Parliament. There are currently eight vacancies in the Rajya Sabha.
In the Presidential poll, Murmu had garnered 540 votes from MPs. Of the 748 votes of MPs polled then, the joint Opposition’s candidate, Yashwant Sinha, could just secure 208 votes – a lower tally than expected.
In the V-P electoral college, the BJP alone has 394 votes. With allies and supporting parties, the NDA claims over 510 votes. In sharp contrast, the Opposition has on paper close to 200 votes. The Presidential poll had seen cross-voting from 17 MPs, mostly in favour of Murmu.
A former five-term Congress MP, Union minister and governor, Alva has framed the V-P election as a “referendum” on the manner in which Parliament is being run and the “breakdown in the fundamental democratic process of building consensus on important national issues”. On the other hand, Dhankhar, the former West Bengal governor and BJP leader, has said that he will “always strive to enhance democratic values of the country”.
Alva has argued that Parliament has been virtually at a standstill with the communication between the members of the ruling side and the Opposition having broken down now. “There is distrust, anger, and the inability to debate issues of critical national importance without personal attacks and abuse. This diminishes Parliament and its members in the eyes of the people,” she had written in a letter to the MPs.
Arguing that “the time for change is now,” she had said, “The reason the election to the Vice President’s post is not subject to a party whip and is by secret ballot, is to give members an opportunity to vote without fear for a candidate they believe will do justice to this critical position. A candidate who will be impartial, fearless, and run the Upper House in a manner befitting its stature.”