When Jagdeep Dhankar was chosen by the NDA to be their vice-presidential candidate, he ticked the right boxes. However, as he took charge, the Opposition complained it felt boxed in.
The Trinamool Congress (TMC) knows the feeling very well as Dhankar’s tenure as West Bengal governor was marred by public confrontations with the Mamata Banerjee government. Banerjee accused Dhankhar of running the Centre’s agenda in her state, while Dhankhar said he couldn’t turn a blind eye to blatant violation of constitutional norms. The near-breakdown of the diplomatic ties was when Dhankhar visited areas that he said were “affected” by post-poll violence.
The TMC did warn many opposition parties when Dhankhar arrived in Delhi and now, the complaints have begun — the latest and most direct being the war of words between the V-P and Rahul Gandhi and Congress.
Gandhi’s comment that democracy is under siege in India and the Opposition voice is being throttled inside Parliament met with strong resistance from Dhankhar who said: “Some amongst us, including Parliamentarians in overdrive, are engaged in the thoughtless, unfair denigration of our wee nurtured democratic values.”
This evoked a strong response from Congress leader Jairam Ramesh who said: “He (Dhankhar) rushed to the defence of a government from which he is constitutionally required to be at arm’s length, in a manner that was most confusing and disappointing.”
The thing is that relations between the Opposition and the vice-president, which began with light-hearted banter, are now marked by lack of trust and confrontation. It goes back to the last Parliament session when comments of Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge were expunged as he demanded a discussion on the Adani issue. Same was the case with other opposition parties like the TMC and DMK.
The Opposition was also upset when the V-P waded into the BBC documentary issue, accusing the film of peddling a false narrative. They said there was no need for Dhankhar to comment on the row as it had nothing to do with Parliament.
As far as the Opposition is concerned, in private, they concede that while the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha often seems to be on the side of the government, Dhankar is brazen. The most recent example of the same is when seven officers of the V-P’s personal staff were attached to Parliament committees which often take up confidential matters. The Opposition called the move against norms but the V-P said it was done only after multi-level consultations.
The Parliament session begins on March 13 and the latest incident is bound to trigger a more heated tug-of-war between the two sides. It hasn’t taken long for the relations to dip. Unlike as in Lok Sabha, in Rajya Sabha, the Opposition is more in number, more aggressive and flexes its muscles. By accusing the government of misusing the office of the V-P to target the Opposition, it’s clear that the mistrust won’t help in Rajya Sabha being a smooth affair.
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