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Vice-Presidential polls: Gandhi grandson takes the fall for the opposition

Vice-Presidential polls: Gandhi grandson takes the fall for the opposition

By Saarthak Anand

The election for the 13th Vice-President of India has sprung no surprises. M. Venkaiah Naidu, the ruling National Democratic Alliance’s candidate, defeated Gopalkrishna Gandhi. the joint-opposition candidate. Naidu grabbed 516 votes, far more than Gandhi’s 244, owing to the ruling coalition’s strength in the Parliament.

In the run-up to the presidential elections held on July 17, Gandhi was widely speculated to be the opposition’s candidate for the office of the president. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), however, pulled a rabbit out of its hat and nominated Ram Nath Kovind, a Dalit, for the post. The opposition parties were left with little choice other than to drop Gandhi’s name and nominate another Dalit in Meira Kumar.

A congenial choice for the opposition

Given his family’s legacy, he is the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi on the paternal side, and of C. Rajagopalachari on the maternal side, Gandhi was a popular choice for the opposition. The Janata Dal(United) and the Biju Janata Dal, both of which had supported the NDA candidate for president, threw their weight behind Gopalkrishna Gandhi this time around.

The Gandhi surname has always found unmatched resonance in the nation’s ‘secular’ circles. It has been invoked time and again to lend credibility to political leaders, parties and government schemes.

Besides, Gopalkrishna Gandhi’s relationship with the BJP has not been very rosy. He has criticised the government on a number of occasions. In a letter to the public a few days before the election, he remarked that “direct and indirect attacks are being made on democratic freedoms of belief, thought and speech”, and that “a new partition is being sown in our minds, a psychological division.” He also said in a recent interview that he was “deeply disturbed over the increase in bigotry, intolerance and the direct and indirect suppression of dissent.”

In addition, Gandhi has the image of a secular and tolerant individual. Combining this with his Gandhian legacy, he epitomises everything that the opposition claims to represent.

Faced with a ruthless adversary

Gandhi’s soft-spoken personality stands in stark contrast to his opponent’s aggressive disposition. A high-ranking member of the Modi government for over three years, M. Venkaiah Naidu had vehemently taken on the opposition parties, inside and outside the Parliament. This was a major factor behind his being chosen as the NDA’s nominee for vice-president, who is also the ex-officio chairperson of the Rajya Sabha.

Naidu had emerged as a vocal face of the government. He enterprisingly defended the prime minister through a host of altercations, including contentious issues such as demonetisation and Modi’s foreign tours. Naidu went so far as to call the PM “a messiah of the poor”. His name was always in the newspaper headlines, and his face in front of television cameras.

In comparison, there is nothing sensational about the non-partisan Gandhi, who is more accustomed to sitting on the sidelines. Moreover, at a time when the media coverage is largely apportioned towards the government and its various moves, he was likely to be ignored.

A game pre-decided by numbers

At the end of the day, however, it was invariably going to be about the numbers. The electoral college is composed of members of the two Houses of Parliament. The NDA enjoys a brute majority in the Lok Sabha and considerable strength in the Rajya Sabha. Popularity and background count for little in such indirect elections. Both candidates were, undoubtedly, qualified for the job. But it had always been a losing battle for Gandhi. Naidu had won the contest the moment his name was announced.

Further, a slew of MPs jumped to the safer ship. There was significant cross-voting in the NDA candidate’s favour. Naidu’s final tally was greater than the expected 495 votes. The opposition’s candidate got only 19 votes more than their presidential nominee Meira Kumar, despite 40 more MPs having pledged support to him. As it turned out, the margin between the two candidates was greater than Gandhi’s total tally.

The shifting political narrative

This is a dreary conclusion to the candidature of such an eminent person. Gandhi was nominated by the opposition for opposition’s sake, in an election in which he never stood a chance. His name was only a means for them to keep their unity intact.

The poll also highlights how the political narrative has shifted. The new party in dominance has its own ideology and ideologues; Deen Dayal Upadhyaya’s name finds unprecedented prominence. BJP’s command over the political discourse implies that the Gandhi surname does not have the same pull today that it did a few years ago. Owing to their rigidity and complacency, the ‘secular-liberal’ camp has acquired a stink of elitism which is rubbing off on what it claims to uphold.

Featured Image Source: VisualHunt

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