Triangular Fight for Vice Prez Election

While the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) is meeting on Saturday to decide on a nominee for the second most important constitutional post, the Left parties have announced that they would begin the exercise of finding a widely accepted candidate for vice president on Thursday – the day of the presidential poll.

The newly formed third front, the United National Progressive Alliance (UNPA), has announced that it would also enter the race with its candidate.

A triangular fight in the vice presidential election, scheduled for Aug 10, may widen the existing differences among the major political groupings, who are in three camps in the presidential election.

The ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA)-Left-Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) combine has fielded Pratibha Patil for the president. Vice President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat is contesting as an independent, backed by the NDA. The UNPA has announced that it would abstain from polling.

However, sources in the Left parties said the communists were keen to evolve a consensus among the non-Bharatiya Janata Party parties on a vice presidential nominee. Party leaders would hold discussions with ‘like-minded parties’ in the UNPA, like Samajwadi Party and Telugu Desam Party, to find a common candidate, they said.

Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) general secretary Prakash Karat has said that the Left would not mind supporting a ‘non-political’ person for the post of vice president, who would also be chairman of the Rajya Sabha. However, sources in the Congress claimed that Karat’s statement came after the ruling party leadership expressed displeasure in supporting a communist leader for the post.

‘The Congress does not favour the idea of giving away the posts of two presiding officers (of Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha) to the communists,’ said a Congress leader. The Lok Sabha is presided by Speaker Somnath Chatterjee, who is a CPI-M MP from West Bengal.

The BJP leadership had told the UNPA that they would support its vice presidential nominee if they voted for Shekhawat. However, parties like Samajwadi Party, insisted that they could not side with the BJP. A miffed BJP Monday went to the election commission against the UNPA’s decision not to vote saying that it was ‘legally untenable and anti-democratic’.

Unlike in the presidential electoral college, the MLAs are not voters in the Aug 10 vice presidential poll. Only members of both the houses of parliament elect the vice president.

The combined strength of the two houses is 790 MPs. While the Lok Sabha has 543, there are 233 members in the Rajya Sabha. There are 12 nominated members in the upper house and two in the lower house.

The ruling alliance, Left and the BSP together will have a clear majority in the vice presidential election, but if the UNPA decides to field a candidate it would make things tougher for smaller parties, independents and nominated MPs to take a decision.

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