The decision of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah means the urban development and I&B departments will be without full scale ministerial heads and raises the probability of a reshuffle after the end of the monsoon session of Parliament next month. Ministries of defence and environment are already being handled by finance minister Arun Jaitley and science and technology minister Harsh Vardhan as their additional responsibilities. Modi had talked of the depleted bench strength last month when he said he could not spare any of his senior ministers for President and selected Ram Nath Kovind for the top constitutional office.
Shah made the announcement at a press meet after a meeting of the Parliamentary Board endorsed the candidature of 68-year-old Naidu.
I know M Venkaiah Naidu Garu for years. Have always admired his hard work and tenacity. A fitting candidate for the office of Vice-President,” Modi tweeted soon after Shah made the announcement.
A farmer’s son, @MVenkaiahNaidu Garu brings years of experience in public life and is admired across the political spectrum.
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi)
He was seen as among the probables for President until Modi decided against relieving any of his cabinet colleagues for Rashtrapati Bhavan. Asked whether Naidu, one of the senior-most ministers was happy about the decision, Shah said, “He is a disciplined party cadre and accepted the decision happily.” The choice of Naidu, a senior BJP leader who served as chief of the party, was influenced by the twin considerations of striking a regional balance after Kovind was chosen to be NDA’s presidential candidate and having an experienced pair of hands as Chaiman of the Rajya Sabha, easily the most important role of a VP.
BJP has ambitious plans for expanding the party’s influence in the South. It can be expected to brandish the prestigious assignment for Naidu as a symbol of its goodwill for the region, though the alliance with TDP in Andhra and occasional flirtations with CM of Telangana, K Chandrashekar Rao, could prove to be impediments.
Rajya Sabha arithmetic continues to be unfavourable to the Modi government. While BJP’s numbers are set to improve, it will continue to face trouble in a House teeming with opposition stalwarts who have not allowed the regime change in 2014 to dampen their spirit.
As someone who is serving his fourth term as a member of RS, member of AP Legislative assembly twice and also, functioned as the minister for parliamentary affairs under the Modi government, Naidu is obviously seen as a seasoned pair of hands: something which gave him an edge over D H Shankaramurthy, Chairman of Karnataka legislative council who was also, according to sources, under consideration. Naidu is expected to score an easy win over opposition pick Gopal Gandhi in the VP poll set for August 5. The electoral college comprises all members of the two Houses and NDA’s hegemony in the Lok Sabha should leave no doubt about Naidu replacing Hamid Ansari as the next occupant of 6, Maulana Azad Road.
This will mark the return of a politician to an office which is in the table of precedence is next only to President and ranks above the PM. Ansari who served two terms, the second one a compensation for Congress leadership’s failure to secure enough support for his nomination for President, was a career diplomat.
While Naidu was always seen as a hot contender, Modi and Shah kept up the suspense over the decision until the day before nominations were to close. Modi said “a farmer’s son, Venkaiah Naidu brings years of experience in public life and is admired across the political spectrum”. “The years of parliamentary experience Venkaiah Naidu has will help him discharge the important role of Rajya Sabha Chairperson,” he tweeted.
While making the announcement, Shah recalled the vast parliamentary experience Naidu has gained in his political career since he joined politics in 1970. “Venkaiahji is one of the most respected politicians across political parties. His name was finalised after consulting all NDA partners and the parliamentary board was unanimous about his candidature,” the BJP chief said.
He recalled Naidu’s tenure as rural development minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee ministry and now the urban development and IB ministries in the Modi government. Shah also said the VP nominee was the prominent face from the South during the JP movement and held various positions in the BJP organisation right from students’ wing to being two time-party chief.