New Delhi: JD(U) leader Harivansh Narain Singh will take on the Congress’ B.K. Hariprasad in the election for Rajya Sabha deputy chairman on Thursday. Thus election promised to be a nail-biter, with Naveen Patnaik’s Biju Janata Dal (BJD) holding the key. Both the NDA and the Congress-led Opposition left no stone unturned to woo the wily six-time Odisha CM, with even Prime Minister Narendra Modi reportedly calling him to seek support.
Mr Patnaik spent the entire day holed up in Mumbai and is likely to return to Bhubaneswar, his state capital, only late Wednesday night or early Thursday, when he is due to attend a tribals’ programme. Most of his MPs were clueless about his intentions, but reiterated that he was unlikely to reveal his cards before the last possible moment.
If the BJD abstains, it would be advantage Opposition, but if it votes for the NDA candidate and helps him win, it would be taking a definitive side ahead of the 2019 general election, and will send a crucial message to his electorate. The third option of voting for the Opposition candidate has been already ruled out by sources.
Mr Patnaik’s party has been fencing with both the BJP and the Congress in Odisha. But as the NDA candidate is from the JD(U) and not the BJP while the Opposition candidate is from the Congress, the balance tilts in favour of the former. It might be recalled that in a similar situation, the Nitish Kumar-led JD(U) had refused to back NDA candidate P.A. Sangma in the 2012 presidential poll, when Pranab Mukherjee was elected. This fact was mentioned in a press statement issued by the BJD on Tuesday.
The election to the post of Rajya Sabha deputy chairman is being held after a 20-year gap, and is being seen as a kind of dress rehearsal for the 2019 general election. After Thursday’s voting, it will be clear as to which side the non-BJP, non-Congress parties are aligned with. Many parties like the PDP, the BJP’s erstwhile partner in Jammu and Kashmir, have decided to abstain. Others like the Aam Aadmi Party have upped the stakes saying that since it is a Congress candidate, no one other than Rahul Gandhi should call their party chief Arvind Kejriwal to seek support.