Information and Broadcasting Minister and senior BJP leader M Venkaiah Naidu was on Monday chosen as the ruling NDA's candidate for the August 5 Vice Presidential election, bringing to an end the suspense over the ruling combine's nominee for the second most important constitutional post.
BJP President Amit Shah announced his candidature after a 90-minute meeting of the BJP's Central Parliamentary Board chaired by Amit and attended by top leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It was said to have been a smooth affair with Venkaiah having emerged the front-runner much through the day.
"Venkaiah is a senior political leader across party lines and is a senior leader of the BJP which he had been associated from his youth. He is the unanimous choice of the BJP and all the NDA constituents who have welcomed his candidature," Amit Shah told reporters after the meeting.
Indications that Venkaiah, 68, was an automatic choice came out after his meeting with the Prime Minister in the morning and informal consultations continued among leaders during the day. Venkaiah, who has been maintaining that he is keen on continuing in active politics, gave hints that he may have changed his mind, when he told reporters that any decision by the BJP will be followed by partymen.
If elected Vice President, Venkaiah will also be the ex-officio Chairman of the Rajya Sabha where the BJP still lacks a majority. With friends across parties and his amiable nature, Venkaiah is expected to steer the proceedings in the upper house through possible turbulence.
The party loyalist
"It is this nearly 40-year long legislative experience, with friendships that he has struck with leaders of all hues, that should help Venkaiah conduct Rajya Sabha proceedings, where BJP-led National Democratic Alliance is in minority and unlikely to cross the halfway mark until 2022. The Vice President is also the chairperson of the Rajya Sabha. But Venkaiah considers the loyalty to his party the leitmotif of his political career," Archis Mohan writes for Business Standard.
"The Rajya Sabha has a number political heavyweights â€” P Chidambaram, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Digvijay Singh, Kapil Sibal etc., in the Congress; Ram Gopal Yadav in SP; Mayawati in BSP, etc. Both the Prime Minister and Amit Shah wanted an experienced man of stature with flexibility and pragmatism to conduct the House smoothly,â€ť a party leader told The Indian Express.
Mihir Swarup Sharma in a piece for NDTV writes that Venkaiah is not really a match for the NDA's three previous candidates for the post of VP, i.e. Bhairon Singh Shekhawat (2002), Najma Heptullah (2007) and Jaswant Singh (2012). However, the BJP could be rewarding him for his loyalty towards the party and Modi.
â€śAt 68, Mr. Naidu is the senior-most leader in the party after the trio of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, former Home Minister L.K. Advani and former Human Resources Development Minister Murli Manohar Joshi. At the parliamentary party meeting where his name was endorsed as candidate, Mr. Naidu is learnt to have become emotional, pointing out his long party stint,â€ť writes Nistula Hebbar in The Hindu.
â€śIn the year that the BJP has the best chance of getting its own men into the top two Constitutional offices in the country, Mr. Naiduâ€™s elevation is a nod to his steadfastness in hewing to the party line,â€ť she adds.
The south Indian stalwart
With the Presidential candidate Ram Nath Kovind hailing from Uttar Pradesh, the party is believed to have looked for a Vice President candidate from the south, and Venkaiah fitted the bill.
The Times of India reports, "BJP has ambitious plans for expanding the party's influence in the south. It can be expected to brandish the prestigious assignment for Venkaiah 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."
From RSS to BJP's most recognized face from the South
Muppavarapu Venkaiah Naidu entered the RSS by accident - his links began in childhood when he chanced upon a 'shakha' while playing. Within some decades, he was the BJP's best-known leader from southern India, one famous for witty one-liners.
A key member of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's cabinet, the now 68-year-old cut his political teeth during the "Emergency" of 1975-77 when he went underground against the government of Indira Gandhi and eventually got jailed.
He remained underground until his arrest, distributing anti-government literature in educational institutions in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, travelling on a scooter along with a woman activist on pillion in a bid not to arouse suspicion.
He was accused of disturbing a meeting of Sanjay Gandhi and was handcuffed during transit from one jail to the other.
Venkaiah hit the national scene when he was one of the prominent opposition spokespersons along with S Jaipal Reddy, who was then in Janata Party, during the campaign by NT Rama Rao after his dismissal as the Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister by Indira Gandhi in the 1980s.
Even though the Bharatiya Janata Party was on a weak wicket in southern India, Venkaiah embraced it tightly.
A quick-witted and effective communicator steeped in RSS/BJP ideology, Venkaiah rose from the ranks to become the party President and a Union Minister.
Venkaiah has been a trouble-shooter for the government as also one of its best communicators with his alliterative and catchy one-liners. He has friends across political parties. It will help him as Chairman of the Rajya Sabha where the BJP still does not have a majority.
Venkaiah is quick to respond to criticism from the opposition.
A brief profile
He has handled key organisational assignments in the BJP and became its President in 2002.
Venkaiah had three continuous terms in the Rajya Sabha from Karnataka from 1998 to 2016, when he shifted to Rajasthan to get a fourth term.
He was Rural Development Minister during the first NDA government led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee, his inspiration along with senior party leader LK Advani.
Born on July 1, 1949 in Nellore district of Andhra Pradesh, Venkaiah was president of the Students Union, VR College, Nellore. In 1973-74, he was president of the Students Union of Andhra University Colleges.
Venkaiah pursued law and was involved in the movement launched by Jayaprakash Narayan.
He was President of the youth wing of the Janata Party in Andhra Pradesh from 1977 to 1980. After Emergency, he was elected to the Andhra Pradesh assembly in 1978 and was a legislator till 1985.
After the BJP was formed in 1980, he became vice president of its youth wing.
He was leader of the BJP Legislature Party in Andhra Pradesh, state general secretary and state unit chief.
Venkaiah was the BJP General Secretary in 1993-2000 and its spokesperson in between. He has been a part of apex committees of the party, including its parliamentary board and Central Election Committee.
With IANS inputs