Triangular fight for vice president Friday


New Delhi : Two weeks after choosing their first woman president, India’s parliamentarians will Friday vote for the country’s 12th vice president in a three-cornered contest that brings to the fore new polarisations in national politics.

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The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA)-Left combine’s candidate is former diplomat and academic Hamid Ansari, who is expected to defeat the National Democratic Alliance’s (NDA) Najma Heptulla and the eight party grouping United National Progressive Alliance’s (UNPA) Rasheed Masood.

This is the first triangular fight for the vice president’s post. Curiously, all three candidates are Muslims.

If he wins, 70-year-old Ansari will succeed Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, who stepped down last month after being defeated by Pratibha Patil in the presidential election.

The vice president, the second highest constitutional post in the country, is also chairperson of the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of parliament, and its chief presiding officer.

With the electoral college limited to MPs from both houses, there has not been much campaigning. Even so, the ruling alliance is taking care to ensure Ansari’s victory.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi hosted a dinner Wednesday evening for MPs belonging to the UPA and her Communist allies. She is believed to have told her party MPs to vote carefully in order to avoid invalid votes.

Five of the nine total invalid votes in the presidential election – in which Patil won with a thumping majority – were apparently cast by Congress MPs.

Though the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which supported Patil in the July 19 election, has not yet made its stance public, sources in the Congress said the party’s MPs would vote for Ansari.

The new political polarisation, initiated during the presidential election, is expected to become clearer after the vice presidential poll.

By fielding its own candidate, the UNPA, known as a ‘third front’ that formed just ahead of the presidential elections, has indicated that it will chart its own path, independent of the UPA and NDA.

For the opposition NDA, which was in disarray during the presidential poll, the vice presidential election seems to have brought some relief even though its candidate Najma Heptulla is certain to be defeated. Nonetheless, the NDA camp appears happy that it might work out a settlement with estranged ally Shiv Sena before Friday’s election.

Senior Shiv Sena leader Manohar Joshi Wednesday attended a meeting of NDA leaders and hinted that the party would go along with the NDA’s choice of Heptulla. The party had refused to vote for Shekhawat and supported Patil in the presidential election.

However, NDA’s West Bengal ally Trinamool Congress, which abstained from the presidential poll, has not clarified its position.

The UPA-Left combine and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) command the support of 425 of the total 790 members of the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. The NDA has the backing of 240 members. The UNPA is expected to get 81 votes.

A successful candidate needs to secure 393 votes.

Ansari, who was chairperson of the National Commission for Minorities, is set to be the third Muslim occupying the post of vice president after Zakir Hussain, who went on to become president, and Mohammed Hidyatullah.

Heptulla, former deputy chairperson of the Rajya Sabha, was in the Congress for over three decades before she left to join the BJP in 2004. Masood, a five-time MP from Saharanpur in western Uttar Pradesh, is a senior leader of the Samajwadi Party and was minister in former prime minister V.P. Singh’s government in 1990.