A keen contest between NDA nominee Harivansh and joint opposition candidate BK Hariprasad is on the cards for the post of Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairman, with both sides claiming majority support. The numbers, however, appear stacked in favour of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led ruling coalition which claims the support of 126 members in the Upper House, which has an effective strength of 244 MPs.
While Harivansh is a first-time MP of the JD-U, Hariprasad is a three-time parliamentarian of the Congress. Both the ruling NDA and the opposition camp gave notices on behalf of their respective candidates and their papers have been found to be in order, according to sources in the Rajya Sabha Secretariat.
The election will be held at 11 am on Thursday, soon after the laying of papers. The post of Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairman has been lying vacant since the retirement of P J Kurien on July 1.
The opposition camp is claiming support of various parties, including Congress, TMC, DMK, Left parties, SP, BSP, NCP, TDP. "We have decided to support Congress leader BK Hariprasad," TDP leader YS Choudhary said. The TDP has six members in the Upper House.
On the other hand, the ruling NDA is intact, with the Shiv Sena and Akali Dal extending their full support to the official nominee, besides also by independent parties like the AIADMK and the TRS.
Sources said the top BJP leadership as well as Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar are learnt to have talked to Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik for his party's support to Harivansh. The BJD has 9 MPs in the Upper House, while AIADMK and TRS have 13 and 6 MPs respectively.
"We have numbers on our side and Harivanshji will comfortably win the election tomorrow. It would have been better if the deputy chairman was elected unanimously," Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Vijay Goel said.
Congress senior spokesperson Anand Sharma claimed the opposition has the numbers as well as a formidable candidate in Hariprasad, even as he accused the government and the BJP of using every tactic and influence of their authority and power to swing the election.
He claimed that the NDA did not have the majority in the Rajya Sabha, else the BJP would have fielded its own candidate, and said the ruling party is going well beyond its fold to get votes.
Asked if the election was a fitness test for the opposition, Sharma said, "Do not pre-judge an election. Wait - otherwise the same thing can be extended even to the general elections. If anybody says why the opposition is contesting, is actually assaulting the very essence and spirit of democracy."
The opposition, he said, is unitedly contesting the election of Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairman as it is not happy with the present state of affairs and the prevailing environment in the country.
"We have a formidable candidate not the NDA. The BJP, if it had the majority, should have fielded its own candidate. Even after fielding a candidate of a party, which has made few changes in its position in the recent past JD(U).
"Still, they lack the majority and that is why they are desperate to reach out to others outside the fold of the NDA. I am making it very clear. The NDA as such did not have majority, does not have majority. They have gone well beyond the fold of the NDA to get votes," he said.
Hariprasad said when there is contest, "it is good contest".
"It is a great honour for me to be the joint candidate of the opposition for the post of deputy chairman," he said.
"We know that the Government of the India and the ruling party has been using every tactic, using the influence of their authority, power just to swing the election," he said.
Sharma said it is not only the numbers that make the candidate formidable and claimed theirs is a "better candidate". "We have the numbers".
According to BJP's calculations, Harivansh is likely to get the backing of 91 NDA members, three nominated and erstwhile SP MP Amar Singh. He also has the votes of some non-NDA parties -- AIADMK (13 members), TRS (six), YSRCP (two) and INLD (one) -- adding up to 117.
Besides, the ruling alliance is counting on the support of nine BJD MPs, totalling 126 votes, BJP leaders claimed.
Hariprasad has the support of 61 MPs of the Congress-led UPA, 13 members each of the TMC and the SP, six MPs of the TDP, five of the CPI(M), four each from the BSP and the DMK, two of the CPI and one MP of the JD(S), adding up to 109 members.
One nominated and one independent member will also support the candidature of Hariprasad, sources in the opposition said. This would take the expected opposition total to about 111, they said.
The arithmetic could change with the death of DMK chief Karunanidhi and uncertainty whether the party's MPs would travel to Delhi for the election.
The PDP, which has two MPs, has declared it is abstaining. The AAP with three members has not clarified its stand so for. However, both parties are unlikely to support the BJP-backed candidate. There are other imponderables with several smaller parties not declaring their intention.