After last month’s Presidential election of Ram Nath Kovind, the new Vice President Venkaiah Naidu was sworn in being the 13th person to hold the constitutional post.
The Prime Minister in parliament offered his congratulations and praised the newly elected Vice President for his years of experience. He said, of Naidu’s time as a Cabinet Minister, “Even when he was Cabinet Minister of Urban Development, he was more interested to stress on rural and farmers’ issues.”
It's an honour for me to become Vice President from a family of an ordinary farmer.This Speaks for the beauty & strength of our democracy— M Venkaiah Naidu (@MVenkaiahNaidu) 5 August 2017
Leader of the opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad congratulated Naidu for becoming the Chairman of Rajya Sabha and said, “You have been given a rare opportunity to do justice, without any bias in mind.”
The Tribune editorial praised the election of Venkaiah Naidu in light of challenges ahead–
“Seen in a larger context, Naidu’s accession to the vice-presidential gaddi demonstrates Indian democracy’s inclusive promise. His humble background was no obstacle to achievement of distinction, first within his party and now on a much bigger stage.”
“He takes over as Chairman at a time when there is a systematic attempt by the ruling party (of which he was a key member till the other day) to saw off the Upper House’s role and importance.”
“All his life Mr Naidu has lived under the shadow of another, taller leader; now he will be called upon to be his own man. A change of roles is not easy to come by; but, then, he will be taking an oath to “bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of India”
Naidu takes over from Hamid Ansari, who, in his final speech as Vice President, cautioned against a ‘trend towards sanctification of military might’ and expressed concern over ‘enhanced apprehensions of insecurity amongst segments of our citizen body, particularly Dalits, Muslims and Christians’.
In the wake of many attacks against Muslims and other minorities over the past few years, in his speech, he emphasized on the values of pluralism and secularism that are enshrined in the Constitution. He also spoke out against an ‘illiberal form of nationalism’ which ‘promotes intolerance and an arrogant patriotism’.
His speech, to the graduating class of the National Law School of India at Bengaluru, struck a cautionary tone in light of polarized rhetoric with respect to what it means to be patriotic and an Indian. It was a not so subtle jab at the some of the comments and actions that have sought to divide the country along religious lines; a trend of intolerance that seems to have risen relatively sharply over the past couple of years.
Seemingly replying to the outgoing Vice President, though his comments didn’t mention anyone in particular, Naidu said, “Some people are saying minorities are insecure. It is a political propaganda. Compared to the entire world, minorities are safer and secure in India and they get their due.”
The Times of India editorial stated that the main challenge for Naidu will be to build bridges between the government and the opposition –
“Naidu’s nomination was pitched as BJP’s outreach to southern India, much like his tenure as BJP president from 2002 to 2004. But it will be as Rajya Sabha (RS) ex-officio chairperson that all of his impressive political experience will be required.”
“Naidu earned his political spurs during the Emergency and has served a considerable part of his career taking on ruling governments. He would know that an opposition, however weakened and difficult, deserves a respectful position in a democracy. The new vice-president’s success will be gauged by the measure of his bipartisanship.”
Naidu is a career politician when the journey started from being the President of the youth wing of Janta Party in Andhra Pradesh from 1977 to 1980. He has held high profile organizational positions within the BJP; leader of BJP Legislative party from 1980 to 1985 and became General Secretary of Andhra Pradesh State BJP in 1985.
He was elected as a member of the Rajya Sabha from Karnataka in 1998 and subsequently went on to be re-elected twice in 2004 and 2010. He has held cabinet positions as well; Union Cabinet Minister for Rural development in the government headed by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee to most recently holding the position of Information and Broadcasting minister.
The Hindu editorial stated that the new Vice President will have to rely on his temperament in his new role –
“That Mr. Naidu did not give much room for raising the profile of the battle for the office of the Vice-President is reflective of his tact and temperament, qualities that will stand him in good stead in his primary job as the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha.”
“Mr. Modi will still have a hole to fill in his Cabinet. Some of the senior ministers such as Arun Jaitley hold more than one important portfolio, and losing another senior hand will surely have an effect on the representativeness and balance of the Council of Ministers.”
The editorial points out the long term plans of the BJP as well in the wake of one of their one being elected Vice President –
“He is the most prominent face of the BJP in the south… given the BJP’s new-found majority in the Lok Sabha, and its ambitious plan to expand its own base in the south beyond Karnataka, party president Amit Shah and Prime Minister Narendra Modi may have felt less need for Mr. Naidu’s ally-making abilities”
In his maiden speech as Vice President, Naidu called himself an ‘all party man’ with no ‘support of dynasty’. His speech emphasized a call to all parliamentarians to work together with the aim of taking the country forward. He said, “We must work together and try to take the country forward...we don't have the luxury of time...let's be guided by what the Constitutional role is for us.”
More columns by Varun Sukumar