After having denied him the chance to be President in 2012, the United Progressive Alliance did the next best thing in offering Hamid Ansari another term as Vice-President. With the support of the Left parties, the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party, the UPA holds enough votes in both Houses of Parliament to ensure a smooth sailing for the soft-spoken and erudite scholar-diplomat in the election for Vice-President. Political compulsions played their part in the Congress, and thereafter, the UPA, deciding to go with Pranab Mukherjee in the presidential election. Mr. Ansari was never ruled out in the calculations and the confabulations; he was just not ruled in. By nominating him for another term, the UPA is seeking to underscore this very fact. Indeed, the Congress initially projected both Mr. Ansari and Mr. Mukherjee as options for the UPA partners to reach a consensus on, but Mr. Mukherjee won that round. When elected, Mr. Ansari will be only the second Vice-President to get a second term; the country’s first Vice-President, S. Radhakrishnan, was the first.
Not unexpectedly, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the National Democratic Alliance it heads have chosen to force a contest by nominating former External Affairs and Finance Minister Jaswant Singh for the post of Vice-President. Mr. Singh, who is eminently qualified for the job, stands no chance of winning, but for the BJP this is an opportunity to try and keep its alliance together after the divisions that emerged within the NDA in choosing the candidate for the President’s post. Unlike in the presidential election, when both the Janata Dal (United) and the Shiv Sena differed with the BJP, now all the NDA partners are united in backing Mr. Singh. Actually, the BJP, perhaps as a placatory measure, first offered to back JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav in the election. Mr. Yadav, a seasoned political campaigner who cannot think of staying away from active politics, declined, and the choice fell on Mr. Singh, who doubtless saw in this an opportunity to cement his already formidable credentials as a statesman within the NDA. Curiously, the NDA’s reasons for opposing Mr. Ansari’s candidature were two-fold: the opposition did not like his conduct as the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha during the discussion on the Lok Pal Bill, nor his shepherding of the Women’s Reservation Bill. Surely, the passing of the Women’s Bill, stalled by the likes of Mr. Yadav for several years, should count as one of the foremost achievements of Mr. Ansari’s tenure. If the BJP and the NDA are keen to use the Vice-President’s election to re-connect their politics with a wider public, this is certainly not the way to have begun.