M Venkaiah Naidu is the BJP's vice presidential candidate (PTI photo)
M Venkaiah Naidu, the vice presidential candidate of the BJP-led ruling coalition, quit the government and his party today, calling it a "painful" task. "Now I do not belong to any party," said the veteran politician after filing his nomination for the August 5 poll.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, top ministers and allies were by Mr Naidu as he completed the formalities for joining the vice presidential contest.
Opposition candidate Gopalkrishna Gandhi's nomination was also a show of strength for the opposition, which featured former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi, Sharad Yadav from Nitish Kumar's party, Left's Sitaram Yechury and Trinamool's Derek O Brien.
But the government estimates that its candidate has the votes of around 550 MPs in the electoral college of 787 MPs, and can easily win. Mr Naidu said there was "no need" for him to campaign as MPs know him too well.
In preparation for his new role, 68-year-old Mr Naidu quit his ministries. Smriti Irani will take additional charge of the Information and Broadcasting Ministry and Narendra Tomar will take charge of Urban Development.
"Needless to say, I will miss my party a lot, but I look forward to my new responsibilities, should I be elected the Vice President," Mr Naidu told reporters after filing his nomination papers.
Mr Naidu said he had earlier decided to "join social service after seeing PM Modi return to power in 2019," but added that "destiny decided otherwise".
Reverting to his trademark humour, he commented: "I started as Usha Pati
(wife Usha's husband), now I will be Up-Rashtrapati
(Vice President), eventually Sabha-Pati
(Rajya Sabha chairman), not Sabka-Pati
Last night, PM Modi worked the phones as he sought support for Mr Naidu. On his call list was Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar - who has already promised support to Gopal Gandhi - and Maharashtra leader Sharad Pawar, another opposition stalwart.
Mr Naidu as candidate falls in neatly with the party's big plans for expanding its base in the south, especially Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. The party also sees clear advantages in the seasoned MP, as Vice President, running the Rajya Sabha, the house where the government is in a minority.
Mr Naidu's nomination marks the return of a politician to the post, which ranks above the prime minister. Hamid Ansari, who served two terms as Vice President, was a diplomat.