With the 16th Vice-Presidential election happening today, it may be time to look at the big picture of Election 2022 to the second highest Constitutional office of the country. The grandeur, the eventfulness, the significance attached to yesteryears when Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, Mohammad Hidayatullah or Shankar Dayal Sharma were elected unopposed, has somewhere faded into the pages of history, and a new era of triviality, mundaneness and a piddling superficiality has been ushered in. Seemingly the stature of the Vice-Presidential candidates has become almost inconsequential. What matters most is political expediency, utility value associated with a consolidated votebank, and also who makes better headlines, sometimes by being loudmouthed.
The Vice-Presidential candidate for the NDA, Jagdeep Dhankhar, comes with vast legislative and gubernatorial experience, but his claim to fame has been his tenure as the most talked-about governor of the country during his stint in West Bengal where he challenged Mamata Banerjee government on everything from administration to bureaucracy, many would say politicising the dignity of the Governor’s office with his constant run-ins. Based on this premise Dhankhar’s persona looks stymied and warped in political machinations carrying a perception that he has been rewarded in lieu of his politics against the Trinamool government in West Bengal.
The result of the election is a foregone conclusion as the numbers are stacked totally in favour of the NDA where, in a strength of 780 Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha MPs, BJP alone is perched at a comfortable strength of 394 where 391 is the magical number for victory. But what unnerves and discomposes is the fact that Dhankhar has hardly expressed his opinions, post the declaration of his name as a VP candidate, on issues that will matter to the Upper House. From floor coordination to handling the politically and ideologically fractious Upper House, as a protector and guardian of the Constitution, Dhankhar fails to elicit confidence, and does not inspire awe as he seems to be parachuted to the Chair. His success would depend on whether he can walk that extra mile to win the hearts of the opposition, which at the moment looks like a daunting task. As ex-officio chairman he will have to pass the smell test. For now what he brings to the table is a trivial political symbolism couched in consolidation of the Jat vote bank, which will be crucial in next year’s Rajasthan elections with a ripple effect in Haryana and Uttar Pradesh.
The story on the other side of the divide isn’t encouraging either. Margaret Alva, the joint Vice-President candidate, does come in with substantial administrative experience, both at Raj Bhavan and as a central minister. Alva has made the right echo by talking about democratic Constitutional values, freedom of the press, taking a leaf out of the Constitution, strengthening institutions, but even she descends into the parochial and some would say a myopic discourse of representation from the South by saying “In the present setup the prime minister is from the North, V-P candidate from the North and so is the Speaker, so why is South ignored?” She goes to the extent of batting for Venkiah Naidu’s second term. Alva seems to be more worried with the delimitation in the South where the region will lose out on the number of Lok Sabha seats, hence she talks of an unease brewing in the Southern region. So despite her stature she ends up stirring the regionalism pot. Does that galvanise inspiration? It’s for people to judge; but it does not reflect well on the integrity of the V-P campaign, making the candidates appear dwarfed as compared to the aura of the post. Alva has courted her share of controversies with her book Courage and Commitment, which explicitly talks about her disquietitude and perturbation with the Gandhis. The numbers in both Houses of Parliament don’t favour Margaret Alva, and the manner in which she was propped up as the last choice not only does her a disservice in terms of esteem, but also doesn’t stimulate ingenuity and innovation on the part of the presently already deflated opposition.
The Vice-President elections thus take place today in the backdrop of almost zero challenge, which is disconcerting more so because the results are inevitable, given the ineffectuality of the exercise in the face of the brute numbers. The country will have a new Vice-President but the citizenry of India will remember the V-P elections 2022 for being as uneventful as the two candidates. A bleak outlook for democracy, indeed.
The writer is a senior television anchor and consulting editor with Satya Hindi