When Rajya Sabha deputy chairperson PJ Kurien retires in July this year, the Congress may lose the prestigious post after 41 years.Since 1977, when Congress leader Ram Niwas Mirdha occupied the position, all deputy chairpersons have been nominees from the Congress. The trend continued even after the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Bhairon Singh Shekhawat in 2002 became the first BJP politician to be elected vice-president, according to parliamentary records.The vice-president also serves as Rajya Sabha chairperson.
“The Speaker and the Deputy Speaker in Lok Sabha and the post of the Chairperson is already out of the Congress hands. There is a distinct possibility that after July, the deputy chairperson in Rajya Sabha will also see a non-Congress MP. For the first time in the history of Parliament, the top four positions in the House may not have a Congress nominee,” said a senior BJP leader on condition of anonymity.
The nomination for Kurien’s successor, however, can be a tricky process as the ruling National Democratic Alliance doesn’t have the numbers to push its nominee for that position.
The usual practice has been that while the ruling party gets its nominee into the speaker’s or chairperson’s post, nominees from the opposition camp become deputy speaker and deputy chairperson. When the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) came to power in 2004, BJP’s Charanjit Singh Athwal became deputy speaker and, in 2009, Karia Munda occupied the position.
A senior political functionary pointed out that in the Rajya Sabha, the Congress has frequently opted to keep both posts. “There is a strong possibility that the BJP will negotiate with other parties to put up a non-Congress, non-BJP candidate. Remember, it denied Congress the Lok Sabha deputy Speaker’s post in 2014 and gave it to the AIADMK (All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) ,” he said.
Opposition leaders also say the BJP would try to cement ties with allies and other friendly parties ahead of the 2019 general election and the deputy chairman’s election could provide it one such an opportunity. “Giving the deputy Speaker’s seat to M Thambidurai was a clear message of friendship with the AIADMK. It needed AIADMK’s help in Rajya Sabha and also for future ties in Tamil Nadu. Similarly, the BJP will look at the political opportunity while electing someone in the Rajya Sabha deputy chairperson’s office,” the BJP leader cited above said.