With Venkaiah As Rajya Sabha Chairman, Watch Out for Fireworks!

Raman Swamy

There may be many reasons why Muppavarapu Venkaiah Naidu has been chosen as the BJP’s candidate to become vice-president of India.  There can be an equal number of reasons why he should not have been. 

But now that the decision has been made and his victory in the vice-presidential elections is a mathematical certainty, it is not difficult to imagine him sitting in the high chair as the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha. 

Presiding over the House of the Elders is the most important and most visible role that vice-presidents play.   Ever since the days of Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, Zakir Husain and V.V. Giri down the pages of history to Shankar Dayal Sharma, K. R. Narayanan,  Krishna Kant, Bhairon Singh Shekhawat and Hamid Ansari,  the men who have occupied the hallowed chair, supervising the proceedings of the Upper House of Parliament have been unique personalities whose names are writ large in the pages of the history of modern India.  Most of them – barring a few like Krishna Kant, Shekhawat and Ansari himself - have gone on to occupy Rashtrapathi Bhavan.    

What destiny has in store for Venkaiah Naidu cannot be foretold.  Whether he will succeed Ramnath Kovind five years later or earlier or never, only time will tell.  

As he himself once said:  "Some people believe is Astrology, some believe in Vaastu Shastra, some believe in Rahu Kaal. I believe in every Kaal.  My father said till you are there every Kaal is good for you and when you are gone, it's good for others".

What matters at this point of time is that he is for all practical purposes the putative Vice-President and the next Rajya Sabha chairman. 
It is very likely that it was not the career path that he had visualized for himself or one that he even really wants, heart of hearts.  As recently as a month ago, he had spoken with a degree of humorous disdain about the possibility --  “Not Rashtrapati, not Upa-Rashtrapathi, only Usha-pati” (referring to his wife Usha).
 But that statement is trademark Venkaiah Naidu.  He says things with emphasis and colourful wordplay.  Even if what he says is not necessarily what he really thinks or what is wholly true. So as long as it sounds good, impresses the audience and conveys the required political message, he goes ahead and says it.
He has always considered himself a master of clever quips and often confides to close associates that it is his gift of the gab which has brought him so far in life and in politics. Even in his native Nellore where he was schooled and in his days as a law student in Visakhapatnam, his teachers and classmates had remarked on his ability to play with words.

At one level Venkaiah has always been flattered by the reactions of those around him but at the same time he has never been entirely pleased – because his own idea of himself was that of an intellectual giant.  He would have liked it better if his brain-power had also won as much praise as the dexterity of his tongue.

To an extent, it was his mentors in the RSS who moulded his thinking in tune with Hindutva philosophy.  He was inducted as a swayamsevak, enrolled as a member of the ABVP students wing and got elected as the president of the students union of all colleges affiliated to the Andhra University.

This training and invisible support from the RSS has stood him in good stead throughout his political career with the political front organization of the Sangh,  just at the juncture when the Jana Sangh was coming out of oblivion thanks to the anti-Emergency JP movement and was being reincarnated as the BJP in the Morarji Desai government.  Venkaiah was made the chief of the youth wing of the loose coalition of parties at that time and since then his political rise was spectacular even if little noticed outside the Sangh parivar. 

He won Assembly elections in 1978 and 1983 before being catapulted into the national BJP hierarchy, made Rajya Sabha MP from Karnataka 1998, installed as BJP party president in 2002, Minister in the Vajpayee Cabinet.…    Currently regarded as the fifth senior-most in the Modi regime,  he was in reality the man whom both the RSS leaders and the Prime Minister relied on the most for political crisis management,   trouble-shooting with NDA allies and interactions with accessible Opposition leaders. 

The striking quality unique to Venkaiah Naidu is that he has an uncanny ability to talk his way out of trouble – that too with witty remarks and biting sarcasm, as well as ponderous utterances which seem serious and profound.  Once, when confronted with his earlier staunch denial that a BJP leader would be forced to quit due to a controversy,  was proved wrong,  he came out with a trademark Venkaiah-ism:   "There is absolutely no question of Joshiji stepping down as the leader of opposition.  It is only that we have accepted his desire to leave the party chief's post."

A fellow parliamentarian once said about Venkaiah:  “He relies on his imagination for both his spontaneous witty remarks as well as for his presentation of facts”.   He can be a bully and he can act like a liberal depending on the circumstance, but underneath he is always a swayamsewak who works for the ideological core principles that he has been trained to believe in.

It is, therefore, no surprise that he has been selected by the BJP as vice-presidential candidate. The question that is puzzling some BJP-watchers is -  would it not have been better if the high-profile personality-plus Venkaiah Naidu had been projected as the next President and the lesser-known Ramnath Kovind been chosen for Vice-President’s post?  

The answer is no.  The BJP needs a bull-dozer conducting proceedings in the Rajya Sabha where the government is in a minority and combined Opposition is calling all the shots.  Kovind does not have what it takes. Muppavarapu Venkaiah Naidu does.  Watch out for fireworks in the House of the Elders!

Jul 18, 2017

Raman Swamy [email protected]

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