“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.”
– Mark Twain
Harivansh, a senior leader of the Janata Dal (United) or JD(U), was elected the deputy chairman of the Rajya Sabha on Thursday. This marks the end of Congress nearly four decades long dominance on the number two post in the Upper House. First time Rajya Sabha member Harivansh, a socialist, only uses his first name, as a person’s caste identity is often inherent in their surnames. The political rise of Harivansh can be attributed to his close ties within the JDU, and his NDA partners, especially the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).The election for the deputy chairman in Rajya Sabha was expected to be a test for Opposition unity but ended up exposing the fault lines within. While all the key opposition parties did support Congress, they failed to reach out to fence-sitters like the BJD, TRS and AIADMK. Harivansh, got 125 votes, while the Opposition candidate, the Congress’s BK Hariprasad, had to settle for 105 votes. The win is striking, for the government does not have an outright majority in the Upper House. The outcome will have an impact on parliamentary business in Rajya Sabha as it will give an upper hand to the ruling alliance despite being in minority. Moreover, with the election of Harivansh as the deputy chairman of Rajya Sabha, the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) secures yet another constitutional position in a contest with the opposition. Earlier, NDA defeated opposition candidates in the election to the President and the vice- president in the last one year.
The NDA candidate could not have won without the crucial support he received from Shiv Sena, Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) and Biju Janata Dal (BJD). Besides, MPs from Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and AIADMK also voted for him. The way NDA reached out to Sena, TRS and BJD for the support is especially noteworthy. The fact that PM Narendra Modi, BJP chief Amit Shah and Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar personally called Odisha chief minister Navin Patnaik reflects the seriousness with which they took the election. It showed in the numbers. The ease with which top BJP leaders called up leaders of some of the regional parties seeking their support for NDA candidates for the post of Deputy Speaker of Rajya Sabha and the fact that they eventually supported the NDA candidate leading to his victory shows how BJP is ahead of Congress or other Opposition parties in striking a convenient political deal when it matters. On the top of it the BJP’s choice of candidate for the post of Rajya Sabha deputy chairperson was meant to send a message to all its allies, present and potential, that Amit Shah-led party is ready to shed its big brother attitude and keen to accommodate the interests of its fellow parties.
The Congress should be happy that a broader opposition alliance consisting of influential parties like the BSP, the SP, the DMK, the TMC and the Left parties is taking a concrete shape. The Congress’ willingness to accommodate the interests of its allies (it was willing to field a non-Congress candidate if numbers were in place) and influential non-Congress leaders’ proactive approach to make the opposition unity work should be counted as another positive for the grand old party.