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RS chairperson’s election will be next BJP-Opposition battleground

New Delhi:The Congress has reached out to Biju Janata Dal (BJD), its arch rival in Odisha, in a desperate bid to defeat the NDA in the upcoming election for the Rajya Sabha’s deputy chairman.
Two people aware of the development said that the Congress may consider giving up its claim for the seat and back a candidate from BJD, Trinamool Congress or any other party for the sake of maximising Opposition unity for the poll, following the template it used successfully in Karnataka to foil the BJP’s efforts to form a government. The Congress gave away the Karnataka chief minister’s chair to the much smaller JD(S).
Efforts to reach out to the BJD mark a significant shift in the Congress’ strategy to contain the BJP. Naveen Patnaik’s BJD, till recently, was seen as supportive of the NDA as it supported several government bills and never joined opposition protests in Parliament. Even the BJP perceived it as a friendly party.
PJ Kurien’s term as deputy chairman will end this month and elections are likely to be held when the house reassembles for the monsoon session.
BJD holds the key in the poll with nine MPs in the Upper House. “There are three fence sitters — BJD, Telangana Rashtra Samiti and YSR Congress Party. We don’t expect the two southern parties to side with us. But if the BJD comes along, we will breach the majority mark of 122,” said a senior Congress strategist involved in the election, asking not to be identified.
The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance has 105 MPs in Rajya Sabha and another six independents and other members are expected to support it. Even if the NDA secures the votes of TRS and YSRCP, the BJD alone can swing the vote in favour of the Opposition.
A senior BJD leader also confirmed that plans are afoot to field a non-Congress candidate to mop up all Opposition votes. “The BJD can’t support a Congress candidate but it may support a suitable non-Congress candidate,” he said on condition of anonymity.
Both sides pointed out that United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Patnaik have been friends for many years. “Rahul too has opened a channel for political communications with him,” said a senior Congress leader who asked not to be identified.
Trinamool Congress’ Derek O’Brien also held a round of informal talks with BJD’s Bhartruhari Mahtab. According to BJD insiders, when Mahtab appraised Patnaik of the situation, the Odisha chief minister quipped, “Let us see how the situation unfolds.”
The Trinamool Congress, too, may try to field its nominee as a consensus candidate, a second BJD leader said on condition of anonymity. “Patnaik will decide only after the candidate’s name is announced. Remember, he didn’t support Meira Kumar in the Presidential poll but backed Gopal Krishna Gandhi in the vice-president’s election.”
According to Opposition leaders, BJD’s Prasanna Acharya or Trinamool’s Sukhendu Sekhar Ray could be fielded for the deputy chairman’s post.