Voting for Vice-Presidential Poll Begins

Former Union minister and National Democratic Alliance candidate M. Venkaiah Naidu is pitted against opposition candidate Gopalkrishna Gandhi.

Opposition vice presidential candidate Gopalkrishna Gandhi and NDA candidate Venkaiah Naidu. Credit: PTI

Opposition vice presidential candidate Gopalkrishna Gandhi and NDA candidate Venkaiah Naidu. Credit: PTI

New Delhi: Voting for the vice-presidential election, in which former Union minister and National Democratic Alliance candidate M. Venkaiah Naidu is pitted against opposition candidate Gopalkrishna Gandhi, began at the parliament at 10 am this morning. While the outcome of this election may be a foregone conclusion for many since the Bharatiya Janata Party and its NDA allies enjoy a sizeable overall majority in the total strength of the parliament, the contest between the two stalwarts in their own rights has witnessed a fair share of drama as well.

The BJP has fielded one of its most prominent firefighters and senior leaders for the post. Naidu has also been the president of the party twice. On the other hand, Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson and former West Bengal governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi has brought with him a lot of sobriety and composure to the polls. The career bureaucrat-diplomat has gone into the elections with an appeal to the MPs to “consider his suitability for the high office”.

The election had been necessitated as the term of Vice-President Hamid Ansari, who was re-elected in 2011, comes to an end on August 10.

Though the NDA has the numbers on its side, Gandhi’s coming onto the electoral scene has seen at least two parties – the Janata Dal (United) of Nitish Kumar and Biju Janata Dal, which had voted for the NDA candidate Ram Nath Kovind in the presidential poll – opting to go instead with Gandhi, whose name had been proposed by 18 political parties.

The voting will go on till 5 pm, after which the counting would be taken up. All the members of the parliament are entitled to vote in these elections. In the Lok Sabha, which has 545 members, the BJP and its allies have a full majority with 338 MPs with the saffron party itself having 281 of those. In the Upper House, which has a strength of 243, though the opposition still has a majority of the seats despite the BJP overtaking the Congress as the single largest party on August 3 when V.K. Samhita took the oath as its 58th MP in the House.

Overall, while the strength of both the Houses stands at 790, there are fewer eligible to vote on account of vacancies in the two houses. Besides, a BJP MP in the Lok Sabha, Chhedi Paswan, has been barred by the Supreme Court from voting. Paswan’s election as an MP from Sasaram in Bihar was earlier quashed by the Patna high court on July 26 for concealing information on criminal cases against him. Though the order was stayed by the apex court, the bar on his voting in presidential and vice-presidential polls remained.

The election for the post of vice-president is taking place with special pens, which were also used in the presidential polls.

While Naidu is emerging the winner due to sheer numbers which the NDA had and was always certain, it was the manner in which Gandhi emerged as the rallying point for not only the opposition parties, but even other neutral parties like Aam Aadmi Party, BJP and even JD(U), which had recently parted ways with the “grand coalition” in Bihar to join hands with the BJP.

Gandhi also won the hearts of many through his simple style of campaigning and direct appeals to the MPs. Known for his adherence to Gandhian principles, he had used postcards bearing a stamp of Mahatma Gandhi to reach out to all the MPs to consider his “suitability” for the post. In his appeal, Gandhi had stated that his resolve would be to “serve the people of India without fear or favour”.

A known critic of the policies of the Narendra Modi government, Gandhi had further stated in the appeal that his “master and guide will be the constitution of India.”

He had later released a statement too in which he had posed several pointed questions to express his views on the present times. “In the larger arena of free choices, how free are we?,” he had asked, adding: “Are we free of fear? Are we free to choose our way of life, our forms of thought and expression? Are we free to tell off the bully and the bulldozer, in high office or the on the street corner? Are we free and able to tell giant industries to not pollute our rivers, our air, to not dump their toxic waste in our environment?”

Naidu, for his part, issued an open letter to all the MPs stating that his endeavour would be to “defend and uphold the ideals that propelled the freedom struggle, the spirit and the principles of the constitution of India, including justice, liberty, equality and fraternity and the cherished values of national unity and integration.” Moreover, he had said that with his “long experience of legislative work” he was also “conscious of the rights, responsibilities and privileges of our MPs, the law makers.”

In the run up to the election to the post of vice-president, some acrimony and bitterness was also witnessed. Gandhi was accused by the Shiv Sena of seeking mercy for Mumbai blast case convict Yakub Memon. Responding to the charge, Gandhi had countered that the practice of capital punishment was “medieval and wrong” and that he had also spoken up for Kulbhushan Jadhav, who was facing death sentence in Pakistan.

Naidu had come under attack from the Congress which had posed four questions to him concerning charges of corruption and nepotism through its leader Jairam Ramesh. Responding to the charges, Naidu had stated that “some people went to court, and the court has also dismissed it. I feel really sorry that they could stoop down to this level in this election also.” Union Minister Ananth Kumar had also reacted to the charges, terming them “baseless and unsubstantiated.”