HYDERABAD: Seasoned warhorse Muppavarapu Venkaiah Naidu, known for his puns and political stratagems, is all set to become the vice-president of India. The BJP-led NDA has sufficient numbers in Parliament to take him past the post.
For Venkaiah Naidu, this ascent will be the culmination of a political career of nearly six decades during which he served in high capacities both in government and in the party.
In the BJP, he did his time as a foot soldier and rose steadily to become the national president from 2002 to 2004 working alongside Atal Bihar Vajpayee and L K Advani as they steered the party’s first – second, if you discounted the 13 days in 1998 -- government.
In government, Naidu served as Union minister with key portfolios such as parliamentary affairs and urban development which drew upon his formidable acumen for policy and legislative deal-making.
Born on July 1, 1949, in the village of Chavatapalem in Nellore district of Andhra Pradesh, Venkaiah Naidu grew in the party on the strength of his artful troubleshooting and his talent for fashioning durable alliances in the coalition era.
In 1999, he was pivotal in persuading the TDP in Andhra Pradesh to make a 180 degree volte face to support the NDA coalition. That enabled the Vajpayee regime in serving out a whole term of the Lok Sabha comfortably.
On other issues of statecraft too, Venkaiah Naidu was a crucial carrier of tidings to formidable politicos such as Jayalalithaa and N T Rama Rao. Being the tallest leader in the party in the south, he was always out and about when politics took important turns in states like Tamil Nadu, undivided and post-divided Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka.
Direct elections were never his forte, but offers to send him to the Rajya Sabha were never scarce. He represented Karnataka in the Upper House for three terms, and now represents Rajasthan.
From among the knights of Vajpayee’s Camelot, he is among the few who were shrewd enough to be relevant in the Narendra Modi era. Having been one of the staunchest supporters of Advani, he is one of the main supporters of Narendra Modi now.
Venkaiah's impending elevation to the vice-presidency comes at a crucial time for the BJP as the VP is the ex-officio presiding officer of the Rajya Sabha where the party does not currently enjoy a majority. His experience as a parliamentarian and his skills for cross-party networking will be very useful to Narendra Modi in the passage of important bills in the Upper House, and therefore the government’s push to retain power in the 2019 general election.
The fact that a minister of Venkaiah Naidu’s experience is being spared for the vice-presidency at this juncture indicates the importance the Modi dispensation gives to lawmaking in the Rajya Sabha in the next two years.
Venkaiah Naidu began his political career as an RSS Swayamsevak and ABVP leader during his college days. He rose to wider notice while studying for a law degree in Andhra University during the Jai Andhra Movement, which was a counter-separatist move to the Telangana agitation of 1969. As a young politico opposed to the Indira Gandhi regime, he did time in prison durig the Emergency and emerged to win two terms in the Andhra Pradesh Assembly from 1978-85.
In 1984, Venkaiah was among the BJP leaders who cemented a relationship with TDP founder NT Rama Rao at a time when the political heavyweight was bringing about opposition unity across the country to checkmate Congress. Venkaiah guided NTR when the film star was dethroned and helped his restoration to power. That relationship sowed the seeds of the current TDP-BJP alliance. Despite the intermittent breaks in the relationship, there is always a door open for restoration of friendship. Venkaiah Naidu is a key player in that process, which has kept the BJP relevant in AP, although the party has had minimal presence in the state.
Another element in Venkaiah Naidu’s crossover appeal in the BJP is his fluency in Hindi. It gave him currency in a very Hindi-speaking party. Though K Jana Krishnamurthi and Bangaru Laxman both rose to be presidents of the BJP from the South, neither had the same reach and influence that Venkaiah has.