x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

India's opposition bloc to field vice-presidential candidate

Move is to protest against the manner in which the ruling United Progressive Alliance's candidate handled an anti-corruption bill last December.

United Progressive Alliance candidate Hamid Ansari, pictured with UPA minister Pawan Kumar Bansal, is expected to win the August 7 vice-presidential vote.
United Progressive Alliance candidate Hamid Ansari, pictured with UPA minister Pawan Kumar Bansal, is expected to win the August 7 vice-presidential vote.

NEW DELHI // India's opposition bloc will field a candidate in the vice-presidential election to protest against the manner in which the ruling United Progressive Alliance's candidate handled an anti-corruption bill last December.

The UPA's candidate and the incumbent, Hamid Ansari, is expected to win the August 7 vote but the opposition National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has chosen to field its own candidate, Jaswant Singh, because it refuses to give the ruling alliance a "walkover".

Apart from being the second-highest office in India, the vice president also chairs the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of parliament. The vice president is elected by members of the two houses of India's parliament.

It is on the charge of political partisanship that the NDA has refused to heed the prime minister Manmohan Singh's request to support Mr Ansari.

L K Advani, a senior leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which heads the NDA, said during a press conference on Monday that his coalition had been unhappy with Mr Ansari's "partisan conduct" during Rajya Sabha debates last year.

"We have decided not to give [the UPA] a walkover" in the vice-presidential election, Mr Advani said.

Late on the final day of parliament's winter session last year, Mr Ansari adjourned the house before the Rajya Sabha could vote on the anti-corruption Jan Lokpal bill. The UPA has been dragging its feet over the framing and the passing of this bill for more than a year.

Mr Ansari had adjourned the house over disorder among its members, citing Rule 257 of the Rajya Sabha's procedural code: "In the case of grave disorder arising in the council, the chairman may, if he thinks it necessary to do so, adjourn the council or suspend any sitting for a time to be named by him."

But the BJP has insisted, ever since last December, that Mr Ansari had broken the rule by not specifying when the bill would be taken up for debate again. The Jan Lokpal bill has still not been passed this year.

Mr Advani said he told the prime minister the NDA had "reservations" about supporting Mr Ansari's candidacy

"So far as the constitution is concerned, the vice president becomes relevant only when the president cannot discharge his duties," Subhash Kashyap, a constitutional expert with the Centre for Policy Research, a New Delhi-based think tank, said yeserday. "But then, to respond to the problem of what the vice president should do, the constitution decided to follow the American model and make the vice president the ex officio chairman of the Rajya Sabha."

In this position, the vice president is able to steer parliamentary debate and shape the course of legislation as it passes through the house.

The post was designed to be a neutral one, Mr Kashyap said, pointing out that the vice president was supposed to abide by the will of the house. "But it can be alleged, with some vice presidents, that they acted on political or party considerations," he said.

Mr Jaswant Singh, the NDA candidate, is a member of parliament from Darjeeling and has held various ministerial portfolios, including that of finance minister between 2002 and 2004, after which the NDA lost the general elections.

The arithmetic of this vice-presidential election, however, weighs against him and in favour of Mr Ansari.

Mr Ansari already has, via the UPA coalition, the support of at least 438 votes, out of a total of 790. Mr Singh, via the NDA coalition, has only 186 certain votes.

Although Mr Singh may yet be able to attract some votes from parties that belong to neither coalition, his final tally is unlikely to exceed that of Mr Ansari. But in several interviews since the announcement of his nomination, Mr Singh has denied that his candidature is a symbolic sign of opposition.

"I am mindful of the responsibility the honour and the implications of this unanimous decision of the NDA," Mr Singh told a television channel yesterday. When he was asked if he was participating in a token fight, he replied: "I don't think any electoral contest in the republic is token. Token suggests a kind of dismissive approach. It's not dismissive. It is an affirmative approach."

SSubramanian@thenational.ae

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