New Delhi: Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Jaswant Singh will be the opposition’s vice-presidential candidate in the contest for the post that’s going to take place on 7 August.
The move is another missed opportunity for the main opposition party to have exploited the political weakness of a government battered by graft allegations, slowing growth, monsoon uncertainty and a seeming inability to get its policy act together, analysts said.
With the ruling Congress party-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) presidential candidate Pranab Mukherjee set to win the 19 July contest, a vice-presidential candidate with cross-party appeal could have made the second match-up more of a fight, analysts said.
The choice raises questions about the ability of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) to project itself as a credible alternative to the UPA ahead of the next general election, scheduled for 2014, they said.
The BJP apparently failed to convince Sharad Yadav, leader of key ally Janata Dal-United (JD-U), to become the vice-presidential candidate.
Vice-president Hamid Ansari has been nominated as the UPA’s candidate for a second term. Political analysts view this as yet another instance of political parties’ reluctance to accept the changing dynamics of minority politics, that nominating a Muslim candidate is a vote-winning exercise.
“It will take a long time for political parties to understand the psyche of Muslims at the grass roots level in the right sense. The identity crisis for the Muslim is no longer there. Today, the Muslims won’t get wooed only because there is a minority candidate,” said A.K. Verma, professor, department of political science, Christ College, Kanpur.
Still, the decision of the NDA to back Singh was unanimous, unlike the break in the ranks seen over the presidential nomination. Allies JD-U and Shiv Sena have refused to join the BJP in supporting former Lok Sabha speaker P.A. Sangma’s candidacy for the presidential election. They will be voting for Mukherjee instead.
Yadav declined the candidacy offer as he wanted to remain in active politics, said L.K. Advani, BJP leader and working president of the NDA.
Advani said the coalition’s reservations against Ansari stemmed from his “conduct” in the Rajya Sabha during the passage of the Women’s Reservation Bill when marshals were used to oust those opposed to the legislation. The vice-president is the chairman of the Upper House.
“We have decided not to give them (the UPA) a walkover” in the vice-presidential poll, Advani said.
However, with the support of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Samajwadi Party (SP), Ansari’s victory looks assured.
Some of the Left parties are also likely to back Ansari. Unlike the presidential election, in which the electoral college consists of members of Parliament (MPs) as well as state legislators, the vice-president is chosen just by the MPs of both Houses.
The opposition could have used the vice-presidential poll to put the government under pressure. “The BJP could not cash in on the opportunity and could not break the UPA ranks by putting up a strong candidate,” said Jai Mrug, a political analyst.
However, G.V.L. Narasimha Rao, a psephologist and political analyst, said there really wasn’t much the BJP could do.
“The BJP had to fight the vice-presidential elections primarily for two reasons. By fighting, they will give a signal to the general public that they do not side with the Congress on any issue and, secondly, they have to keep their flock together,” Rao said.
The Congress has been embarrassed by the stand of ally Trinamool Congress (TMC) against the UPA candidate for both the posts. Ansari’s choice may complicate things for the TMC, a Congress leader said.
“Many in the party feel that the TMC may not be able to afford to oppose a Muslim candidate. The SP and the BSP would also hesitate to do so,” said the leader, who didn’t want to be identified.
“Political symbolism” only worked among minorities when they face an identity crisis, Verma said. “Now they have realized that non-traditional domains have better prospects for their political ambitions. They are trying to experiment with other domains, too. They have become emboldened,” he said.
Verma, an observer of Uttar Pradesh politics, added that the Dalits, on whom BSP chief and former chief minister Mayawati had depended, deserted the party and voted for the others, especially the SP, which won a landslide majority in the assembly election held earlier this year.
Besides this, the BJP, which has been accused by other parties of being “communal”, increased its vote share in some Muslim-dominated constituencies in the last election.
“Muslims have become clear-headed and realized that the secular parties for which they have been voting have not done anything substantial to improve their lives. They are fed up with the symbolism. And the political parties are yet to grab these signals,” he said.
Mohammad Manzoor Alam, general secretary of the All India Milli Council, said giving positions to Muslims could still act as an incentive to the community.
Firoz Bakht Ahmed, a columnist, said a small section still believes in symbolism, but the larger section wants it to be followed by “policies and action plans to bring them up socially and economically.”