Prime Minister Narendra Modi praised the BJP’s Vice Presidential choice Jagdeep Dhankhar as a “Kisan Putra” (farmer’s son). But Dhankhar, the Governor of West Bengal, has another important qualifier – he is Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s bete noire, dogging her every move and calling her out incessantly.
Dhankhar was appointed Governor in 2019 and has virtually been the main opposition to Banerjee, who is on her third term as Chief Minister.
The Vice President performs the important duty of presiding over Rajya Sabha and keeping the opposition on a short leash.
Once Dhankhar is elected, both the presiding officers of parliament (the other is Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla) will be from Rajasthan. Congress-ruled Rajasthan votes next year. Dhankhar belongs to a forward caste and his selection sends a message to the upper caste across north India, which has been solidly voting the Modi-led BJP.
This presidential race has been marked by sharp, nuanced and maximalist politics that has exposed the opposition collectively as tired and all out of ideas to take on the Modi government.
Droupadi Murmu, former Governor of Jharkhand, ticks all possible political boxes and then some.
Murmu, once elected on July 18, will be the first tribal woman to be President. The NDA nailed it with her selection, forcing those like Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik and his Biju Janata Dal to offer their full support. Murmu is from Odisha.
A bruised and beaten Uddhav Thackeray of the Shiv Sena was virtually arm-twisted by his own MPs to break ranks with the opposition and support Murmu. The Sena MPs threatened to go over to the Eknath Shinde-led Sena currently ruling Maharashtra in alliance with the BJP. Thackeray insisted he was not blackmailed by his MPs and that he was offering support to Murmu because he was impressed with her candidature. Even so, for the BJP’s brains trust that chose her, score.
Yashwant Sinha, the opposition’s pick for President, looks defeated and like an also-ran already.
Before joining the race he was in Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress, yet the party has made no effort to campaign for him. Banerjee, who had initiated the moves for a joint opposition candidate to take on the BJP, finds herself on the tightrope on Murmu, a woman tribal candidate.
The Congress party, which also seconded Sinha, has made zero effort to solicit support for the opposition candidate. Rahul Gandhi is abroad on his fifth foreign trip this year and will return on voting day. Sonia Gandhi, interim Congress president, worked the phones, keeping up appearances for candidate Sinha.
The BJP had a clear political goal – to win back allies like the Akali Dal, which is supporting the Murmu and Dhankhar ticket, and get fence-sitter BJD firmly on its side.
Even Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who barely agrees with the BJP on anything these days, has fallen in line and is following the BJP’s script on the presidential polls. With the general elections due in two years, the BJP was very clear about establishing loyalists in the two high offices.
A few hopefuls did not make it beyond the heats. They include the BJP’s Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, who quit as Minorities Affairs Minister after he was not given a fourth Rajya Sabha term, and Captain Amarinder Singh, the former Punjab Chief Minister who quit the Congress last year.
The opposition could have been imaginative in its choice of candidate in a contest it knew it was going to lose. But it followed a done-to-death script. It should have seen the neon sign when Gopal Gandhi, a distinguished intellectual and the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, declined to be the candidate for President. Yet it stayed chained to its predictable route, bereft of political smarts.
Sitaram Yechury of the Left asked former Chief Election Commissioner SY Qureshi to be the opposition candidate for Vice President. Qureshi, like Gandhi, declined politely. Yechury had apparently told him it was a contest he was certain to lose but it was important to run.
That’s our opposition for you. Running to be an Also Ran.
(Swati Chaturvedi is an author and a journalist who has worked with The Indian Express, The Statesman and The Hindustan Times.)
Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.