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This article first appeared on Business Standard on August 31, 2015
M Venkaiah Naidu is the only person in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) who became president of the party, resigned from the post and later accepted the post of vice-president: In a typical Venkaiah-ism he called it a de-promotion.
For reporters covering the urban development and parliamentary affairs ministries in the National Democratic Alliance government, the way is paved with such witticisms. Naidu is proud of the fact that he never speaks to reporters off-the-record. He has a bluff, hearty, no-nonsense style - that can be misunderstood.
During his presidentship of the party, former prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee paid him lavish compliments for his drive and energy in revitalising the organisation. Naidu was a relentless driver, whipping the party into shape, pruning dead wood and not bothering to be kind to those who got swept away. An aged but respected leader from Bihar found himself becoming a victim of the VRS Naidu offered. While breaking the news to him, Naidu said: "And so, what shall we do with you, Mr X?" The man, who had spent 50 years building the organisation in Bihar and Jharkhand spluttered a bit but meekly offered to step aside for younger blood. So, Naidu's brusque "and... next!" style unsettled many. The style continues. When municipal corporations - many dominated by the BJP - couldn't pay safai workers and sought a dole from the Centre, Naidu was livid, even though the appeal came from his own party colleagues. "Why should I pay? There are so many civic bodies across the country? Should I pay all of them because they can't collect revenues themselves," he asked.
The ministry bears the stamp of his indefatigable energy. He's holding competitions for best cities, he is asking cities to revive the municipal infrastructure and think of new creative ways to raise money to offer citizens better services.
However, in his other job, as parliamentary affairs minister, Naidu is hobbled by the policy confusion that seems to have the entire government in its grips. He has the unenviable task of marshalling legislation - and work force - that does not always have bipartisan support, like the land acquisition amendment Bill; and is let down by his own party sometimes. Check the treasury benches on any given day Parliament is functioning and they will be largely empty. In the Budget session, when the Finance Bill was being debated, the quorum bell kept ringing in the Lok Sabha where the ruling alliance has a majority, but floor managers could not even muster 54 members of Parliament (MPs) - which is 10 per cent of the 543-member Lok Sabha. Finally, the Speaker had to adjourn the House for 15 minutes to enable the government to corral together enough MPs.
Naidu tries not to let a fractious House get to him, but he is a spontaneous person and finds it difficult to remain his jovial self. His job is probably the third most important one in this government.