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As the BJP’s go to man in the South, can Venkaiah Naidu’s elevation as Vice President change the saffron brigade’s fortune there.
The amiable M Venkaiah Naidu’s facile win in the Vice Presidential elections last Saturday (August fifth) was never in doubt. The cross voting became all too evident with his opponent Gopalkrishna Gandhi losing by a wider margin that expected even as he acknowledged gracefully that “it was the victory of the ballot”.
Expectedly certain regional parties in the South like the ruling but faction ridden AIADMK in Tamil Nadu as well as the TRS in Telengana and the YSR Congress in Andhra Pradesh backed the old war horse whose popularity was never in doubt.
Naidu sought to clear the air once for all right at the beginning emphasising that he no longer belongs to any party. History has been created with the BJP bagging the top three constitutional posts in the country – President, Vice President and the Prime Minister – for the first time since it was formed in 1980.
The credit for achieving this landmark must go to Narendra Modi in large measure as the Head of Government. In the first instance he zeroed in on Ram Nath Kovind, a low profile barrister and a Dalit hailing from UP, for being ensconced in the majestic Rashtrapati Bhawan, in a bid to assuage the feelings of the 21 per cent Dalits in the country towards the BJP.
Then he turned to Venkaiah Naidu as the Vice President to boost the Lotus party’s image in the South accounting for no less than 130 seats in the 543-member Lok Sabha. There is a felt need to enlarge the party’s image and presence in the South akin to winning Assam and having a BJP government for the first time in Gauhati considered the gateway to the Northeast.
Being a fractured entity since the passing away of Amma and AIADMK supremo, J Jayalalithaa, the Lotus party had set its eyes on having a truck with them. It appears to be fructifying now with chief minister E K Palanisamy meeting the Prime Minister in the national capital on Thursday for being an ally of the NDA. The faction headed by erstwhile chief minister O Paneerselvam is merging with the ruling faction subject to certain conditions being met.
This has the portends of the saffron brigade achieving a significant breakthrough in Tamil Nadu. At the same time considering the pitfalls and unpredictability of the situation in the AIADMK, the BJP is hopeful of its calculated gambit succeeding in Tamil Nadu, a main battleground state in the South. It has a tally of 39 seats in the Lok Sabha.
The endeavour of Modi along with his confidant and BJP president Amit Shah is to enlarge the saffron brigade’s footprint all over the country including the South rather than being confined to the Hindi heartland.
The gambit is to take advantage of Naidu’s outreach in the South akin to his tenure as BJP president from 2002 to 2004 considering his fluency in several languages like his mother tongue Telegu, Tamil and Kannada among others. There is no doubt he is the most prominent face of the BJP from the South. Karnataka is the only state in the South to have voted the BJP to power.
Left to himself, Naidu might have preferred to remain in active politics. He was BJP’s man Friday for making allies in the South. He had developed a good equation with southern leaders like Telengana chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao, AP chief minister Nara Chandrababu Naidu and the late Jayalalithaa in Tamil Nadu.
At the same time his role as the Chairperson of the Rajya Sabha in ensuring the smooth functioning of the House of Elders will be crucial. Naidu has to ensure debate rather than disruptions which has been the norm in the Rajya Sabha lately. It is significant that the BJP has managed to edge past the Congress tally thus becoming the single largest political entity in that House. Nevertheless, the BJP led NDA still has some way to go before achieving a majority in the 245-member House of Elders.
The BJP has become the dominant party in the country evidenced with the splash of the saffron on the country’s map. Its aggressive politics enabled it to bag major states and install its party men as chief ministers. This is indicative of the BJP securing another mandate for itself in the 2019 general elections with hardly any opposition on the horizon.
With the ruling dispensation virtually having complete sway over key seats of power, how it pans out in practical terms remains to the seen. The Constitution requires the President and the Vice President to be non-partisan which is bound to be put to test now.
Winning the trust of the opposition might not be easy in the wake of Naidu’s long association with the BJP. He has alluded to no longer being a party man and that it will be his duty to preserve and protect the Constitution. He was installed as the 14th Vice President of India yesterday (Friday, August 11) when he was administered the oath of office and secrecy by President Ram Nath Kovind.