Union Minister M Venkaiah Naidu, one of most recognisable faces in the Bharatiya Janata Party, is the National Democratic Alliance's vice presidential candidate, party president Amit Shah said on Monday.
Naidu was chosen at the BJP parliamentary board meeting in New Delhi attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other senior party leaders.
The 68-year-old Naidu currently holds the two portfolios of information and broadcasting and Housing and urban affairs.
His nomination is seen as part of the saffron party's attempts to expand in south India, which has been identified by Shah as a key region for growth before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
The two-time BJP president is pitted against Gopalkrishna Gandhi, who was chosen by an alliance of 18 opposition parties, including the Congress, but the former's election is almost inevitable due to the NDA's huge numerical superiority over the opposition.
Announcing his candidature, Shah heaped praise on the Andhra Pradesh leader, who is known for his witty rhymes and has often voiced the government's and the party's stand on key issues while taking on the opposition.
Recounting Naidu's rise through the party's ranks since he was a junior worker, Shah said, "He has been with the BJP since he was very young. He hails from a farmer's family and held important organisational posts in the party."
Asked about reports that Naidu was reluctant to take up the new responsibility, the BJP chief told reporters, "There is nothing like this".
He added that the senior leader had always accepted the party's decisions. To another question about whether he would like Naidu to be elected vice president with the support of all parties, including the opposition, Shah said had the opposition parties been keen on a consensus, they would have waited longer and not put up a candidate.
"I do not want to get into all this now. The fact is Naidu ji is among the senior-most leaders across parties in the country," he said.
The government also hopes that Naidu's vast parliamentary experience will help in the smooth conduct of Rajya Sabha proceedings. The vice president is also the chairman of the upper house.
Naidu is a fitting candidate for the office of vice president, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said.
Modi described 68-year-old Naidu as a farmer's son who 'brings years of experience in public life and is admired across the political spectrum'.
He said he has always admired the hardwork and tenacity of Naidu, currently a minister in his cabinet holding the portfolios of information and broadcasting and urban development.
'I know @MVenkaiahNaidu Garu for years. Have always admired his hardwork & tenacity. A fitting candidate for the office of vice president,' the prime minister tweeted, soon after the announcement of the decision of BJP's Parliamentary Board, the highest decision-making body of the party.
'The years of Parliamentary experience @MVenkaiahNaidu Garu has will help him discharge the important role of Rajya Sabha Chairperson,' Modi added.
Naidu had started his political career as a worker of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the students' wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, and held positions in student unions. He was also the president of the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha, the BJP's youth wing.
The four-time Rajya Sabha member was also a member of the Andhra assembly. He was the rural development minister in the first NDA government.
The electoral college for the August 5 election consists of 790 MPs of the two chambers of Parliament.
Shah said Naidu will file his nomination on Tuesday, which is the last day for the filing of papers.
IMAGE: Union Minister M Venkaiah Naidu being offered sweets by his wife Usha at his home, after he was announced as the NDA's vice presidential candidate in New Delhi on Monday. Photograph: Vijay Verma/PTI Photo