RS deputy chairman polls: Opposition gave up midway as NDA went for the kill

New Delhi: The Opposition’s challenge in the Rajya Sabha deputy chariman’s election was over with Naveen Patnaik telling Sharad Pawar on August 7 that he has committed support to Harivansh in response to a call by Janata Dal (United) president Nitish Kumar.
The Bihar chief minister had reached out to his Odisha counterpart ahead of a similar request by the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) stalwart. The Biju Janata Dal’s nine members in the Rajya Sabha tilted the scales decisively for Harivansh and the ruling NDA in what till then was a tight contest.
Another factor that made the NCP pull out its candidate Vandana Chavan was the Shiv Sena chief predicating his support to the Opposition on whether it had the numbers to defeat the NDA nominee. Uddhav Thackeray had said that in as many words to Pawar. That clearly wasn’t the case with Patnaik taking a call in favor of Harivansh. The BJD’s precondition for support was that the candidate shouldn’t be from the Bharatiya Janata Party stable, a source privy to the discussions told HT. He said the JD (U) contestant passed that test.
It is difficult to say whether Nitish Kumar’s early overture to Patnaik made the difference. But a senior Opposition leader felt that things could have been different if Pawar had spoken first to the Odisha CM, with whom he has a good equation. Had that happened, the Sena would’ve followed suit on the plea of backing Chavan, who is from Maharashtra, in a repeat of its support of Pratibha Patil in the 2007 election for president.
The BJD has had a mixed record in the Upper House. It abstained from voting during Hamid Ansari’s election as vice-president. But in 2017, it voted for UPA nominee Gopalkrishna Gandhi against the BJP’s Venkaiah Naidu on the completion of Ansari’s term. “Beside other things, we are guided by the choice of candidate and Gandhi in our view was a better option,” noted a senior BJD Lok Sabha member.
For their part, the NDA-BJP managers were better prepared. They moved faster and with determination to augment or retain numbers within their reach. The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) was unhappy with the treatment meted out to its Rajya Sabha member Naresh Gujral, who was ignored after being asked by a senior BJP minister to throw his hat in the ring. The party’s Union minister Harsimrat Kaur was reportedly present when the offer was made.
According to an SAD insider, BJP president Amit Shah led his party’s outreach, making several calls to Sukhbir Badal for the party’s support for Harivansh. He succeeded eventually in making the sulking Punjab ally vote instead of its originally planned abstention.
The inevitability of defeat took the fight out of the Opposition ca- mp. So much so that the turnout from their side was marred by no- shows from within the Congress and the Samajwadi Party (SP). The Aam Aadmi Party did not vo- te as nobody sought its support. Ditto for the Peoples Democratic Party and the YSR Congress.
A senior SP leader wondered whether the token contest — by fielding the Congress’s BK Hariprasad — served the Opposition’s interest when weighed against the possibility of a consensus. He dismissed, however, the inference that the outcome was in any way indicative of the unity quotient on the non-BJP political spectrum.

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