Phone calls to allies, team to execute plan: How NDA won the Rajya Sabha battle

A back-of-the-envelope calculation of the house strength, man-to-man marking, a team to execute the plan, a set of phone calls, and the collective efforts of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP president Amit Shah, and Bihar CM Nitish Kumar helped the ruling National Democratic Alliance pull off an easy victory in the election for the Rajya Sabha deputy chairman’s post on Thursday, three leaders familiar with the matter said.

The ruling alliance is short of a majority in the upper house, but the July 20 vote in the Lok Sabha, where the government (which is in a majority in that house) defeated the opposition’s no-trust motion decisively, aided by the abstention of key regional parties, raised hopes that it could hope for the support of the same parties in the Rajya Sabha too.

Once a decision was taken about two weeks back that the election to the deputy chairman’s post would take place in the current session, the BJP’s floor leaders in Parliament got into the act immediately. The aim was straightforward: ensure the NDA stayed together; get as many non-committal parties on to the ruling side; and ensure that those who could not vote for the NDA abstained .

Shah then picked a team of six union ministers, rail and finance minister Piyush Goyal, defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman, parliamentary affairs minister Ananth Kumar, petroleum minister Dharmendra Pradhan, health minister J P Nadda, and minority affairs minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi , and a set of BJP office bearers — general secretaries Bhupendra Yadav, Ram Madhav and Anil Jain — to work with the objective of securing a win.

Each member of the team had specific assignments to reach out to selected parties that were not aligned to the Congress or were not part of the United Progressive Alliance, the first leader added. For instance, Sitharaman and Nadda spoke to the leadership of Telangana Rashtra Samiti and secured the support of its six MPs for NDA candidate, the second leader said. Nadda and Ananth Kumar remained in touch with the AIADMK, which has 13 MPs, and ensured that they voted for the NDA candidate. The AIADMK had voted against the opposition’s no-trust vote in the Lok Sabha as well.

Modi and Shah themselves spoke to Odisha CM and BJD leader Naveen Patnaik, who was a key swing force. A BJD leader said, “We did not have much at stake in this election. And a friendly centre suits us.” Nitish Kumar too spoke to Patnaik. A JD (U) leader who asked not to be identified claimed that Kumar and Patnaik share a warm personal equation, that they met recently in Bhubaneswar, and that the JD(U) had always demanded a Bharat Ratna for Naveen Patnaik’s father Biju Patnaik. Shah and Sitharaman dealt with the YSR Congress.

Poll strategist Prashant Kishore, who worked with Nitish Kumar in the past and is now associated with YSR Congress Party, was also pressed into service to soften the party president YS Jagan Mohan Reddy, said the third leader familiar with the development. The YSR Congress Party, which had earlier announced support for Congress candidate, did not take part in the vote.

Two MPs of the Peoples Democratic Party of Mehbooba Mufti, a former ally of the BJP, abstained from the vote after Ram Madhav and Pradhan spoke to the party’s leadership.

“The PDP was in a mood to support the Congress, but we managed to convince it to abstain,” another BJP leader familiar with the discussions between the two parties said.

The PDP was approached by the JD(U) separately, the JD(U) leader added. Goyal and Pradhan were even deputed to talk to bitter rival AAP, the first leader said. Bihar CM Nitish Kumar, too, spoke to AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal on Thursday night.

The Delhi CM, however, made it clear that AAP could not support the NDA and if Rahul Gandhi did not seek its support, it would sit it out. On Thursday, three MPs of AAP abstained from vote, bringing down the number of votes for Congress candidate BK Hariprasad.

Updated: August 10, 2018 — 1:53 am