Expected as it was, Jagdeep Dhankhar, the BJP-led ruling NDA coalition’s candidate, won the vice presidential polls, on Saturday (August 6), against Margaret Alva, the nominee of the Opposition parties.
In the 788-member Electoral College, comprising members of both Houses of Parliament, 780 members had cast their votes for the vice presidential election.
Dhankhar secured 528 votes, marginally higher than the strength of the ruling coalition and the regional parties backing its nominee, suggesting some cross-voting by the Opposition MPs.
Alva, who was expecting to get more than 200 votes ended up polling just 182 votes, losing to Dhankhar by a margin of 346 votes. As per the official announcement of the result by the Returning Officer of the poll, 15 votes had been declared invalid.
The Vice President-elect will take oath of office on August 11, a day after the tenure of incumbent M Venkaiah Naidu concludes.
Dhankhar’s victory in the election was sealed the moment BJP national president JP Nadda announced his candidature last month as the NDA combine enjoys an overwhelming majority in the Electoral College, with the saffron party alone commanding a strength of 390+ MPs in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha.
BJP allies such as the JD (U), the Apna Dal (S), LJP and Eknath Shine-led faction of Shiv Sena aside, the former Bengal Governor also had Naveen Patnaik’s BJD, YS Jagan Mohan Reddy’s YSRCP, Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party and the AIADMK supporting his candidature.
Though Alva had the support of a larger number of parties, numerical strength that these outfits – the Congress, DMK, CPM, CPI, NCP, RJD among others – collectively have in the Electoral College was way below the required half-way mark needed for a candidate to win.
For the 80-year-old Alva, a former Union minister and former Governor, there was also the early setback of losing crucial support from Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress, which, for all its platitudes on the need for Opposition unity, had decided to abstain from voting.
Congratulations to Mr Dhankhar on being elected Vice President!
I would like to thank all the leaders of the Opposition, and MPs from across parties who voted for me in this election.
Also, all the volunteers for their selfless service during our short but intense campaign.
— Margaret Alva (@alva_margaret) August 6, 2022
As the voting day drew close Alva did succeed in narrowing Dhankhar’s lead after Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party, Shibu Soren’s JMM and the Uddhav Thackeray-led faction of the Shiv Sena – all parties that had broken ranks with the Opposition during last month’s presidential poll and voted for NDA’s nominee Droupadi Murmu – decided to back her candidature. Yet, the numbers were never really in her favour.
As such, while the result of the vice presidential polls was predictable, what made the contest interesting was the clash of personalities that the rival camps had fielded and the political discourse that dominated the period of the campaign.
The BJP’s decision of fielding Dhankhar, a leader of no real political or administrative heft but one famous for a gubernatorial stint that saw unprecedented acrimony between the Calcutta Raj Bhavan and the Bengal government, showed the saffron party’s appetite for further confrontations with its rivals as also the BJP leadership’s ability to never take its eyes off electoral considerations.
As Vice President, Dhankhar will also be the ex-officio chairman of the Rajya Sabha at a time when communication and consensus between the Treasury benches and the Opposition on any issue has practically become non-existent.
By choosing a candidate who has a baggage – and with ample evidence to show for it – of irrefutable partisanship even while holding a constitutional office, the BJP had already signalled to the Opposition that it won’t let its legislative agenda in Parliament be held hostage to parliamentary conventions of discussion and dialogue or to political niceties.
With Dhankhar now set to take over that high chair of the Rajya Sabha chairman, the Opposition can only hope that his conduct of the House proceedings won’t compel accusations already heard all too frequently in the other House of Parliament of the Chair acting solely to protect the interests of the Treasury.
Electorally, the BJP is bound to capitalise on the symbolism of giving India its first Jat Vice President – just as it ensured that in Droupadi Murmu the country got its first ever tribal woman President – when states such as Rajasthan or Haryana that have a sizeable presence of this agrarian community go to polls.
If the BJP found in Dhankhar a candidate who could, right from the beginning, rile its rivals, the Opposition’s choice of Alva too had its own message. For starters, despite the inevitability of defeat, the Opposition had picked a markedly better candidate in the VP polls than the one they back for the Presidential Election last month.
Yashwant Sinha, the former BJP veteran who the Opposition backed for President may have had an illustrious career as a bureaucrat and politician who once held key portfolios of finance and external affairs at the Centre, but his candidature was devoid of any significant meaning to the many conflicts that India’s political landscape has been fraught with in recent years.
During the course of his campaign, Sinha repeatedly mouthed platitudes about preserving democracy, upholding the Constitution and its guarantees of secularism and free speech – a key part of Alva’s campaign too. However, his chequered political past that saw him serve as a key figure in the BJP and its then central government who watched without protest the 2002 post-Gujarat communal pogrom and, in fact, continued to serve the saffron party till well past Modi’s elevation as PM, made it difficult for several of Opposition leaders to stridently campaign for him in the presidential race.
Alva, on the other hand, had the advantage of being somewhat of a maverick politician who despite being a staunch Congress member for nearly five decades was not someone the BJP or Opposition parties not particularly smitten by the current version of the Grand Old Party could dub as a dynasty sycophant or rubber stamp.
In fact, Alva’s stout criticism of the Congress party and its central leadership before she had faded out as a 24X7 politician nearly a decade ago, made her candidature stand out as it signalled the Grand Old Party’s willingness to accept a name chosen by its allies (Alva’s name was, sources told The Federal, mooted not by the Congress but by her old colleague and NCP chief Sharad Pawar) even if it wasn’t one that the Gandhis preferred.
Besides, as a veteran parliamentarian who had served four terms in the Rajya Sabha and one term in the Lok Sabha, been a Union minister and a Governor, Alva had the administrative experience and understanding of constitutional and parliamentary provisions, practices and conventions ideally required of someone holding the high office of the Vice President of India. Through her campaign, Alva spoke of the need to preserve these practices and traditions as she appealed to the MPs to vote “as per their conscience”.
Unfortunately for Alva, political affiliations almost always trump conscience and so they did when the MPs cast their vote on August 6 and elected, with a 346-vote lead, Dhankhar as the 14th Vice President of India.