The government and the opposition are heading for a showdown in parliament over the Rajya Sabha number two position. Harivansh Narayan Singh, a leader of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar's party, is likely to be the ruling BJP-led coalition's nominee for deputy chairperson of the Rajya Sabha.
Any side needs 123 parliamentarians in the 244-member house to push their candidate for the post that has always been held by the Congress, barring one term.
The BJP-led coalition can scrape through if it has the support of Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik's Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhara Rao's TRS.
The BJP is the largest party in the House with 73 members. Its allies Janata Dal United, Shiv Sena, Akali Dal have six, three and three members. Besides the nominated and independent members affiliated to it, the BJP is banking on the support of the AIADMK, BJD, TRS, YSR Congress.
The opposition is likely to put up its own candidate for the election to be held on Thursday. The parties met this evening and will meet again.
Reports had suggested that Sukhendu Shekhar Roy of the Trinamool Congress would be the opposition's candidate but he said his party would not put up a candidate and would accept any common choice.
The choice of Harivansh Narayan Singh, a longtime journalist but a first-time parliamentarian, is significant at a time ties have been strained between allies Nitish Kumar and the BJP over the past few months.
Harivansh Singh has been a Rajya Sabha member of the Janata Dal United since 2014.
Congress's PJ Kurien was deputy chairman since 2012.
The Congress, with 51 seats, would have been the natural claimant for the post. The party, however, realised that to telegraph its willingness to carry everyone along head of the 2019 general election, it had to be open to a candidate that has the support of parties like the Biju Janata Dal and the TRS. The two parties have not made their stand official.
The last time an election took place for the Rajya Sabha deputy chairperson's post was in 1992. The fight was between Congress candidate Najma Heptulla, who is now with the BJP, and Renuka Chowdhary, who was the opposition candidate. Najma Heptulla won with 128 votes against Renuka Chowdhary's 95.