Presidential Election 2017: BJP, Opposition gear up for talks over consensus candidate

As the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is delaying the announcement of its presidential candidate, speculations are rife if the presidential poll will indeed bring a change in national politics with both the ruling and opposition parties showing a willingness to work towards a consensus candidate.

On Wednesday, consultation process in both the BJP and the opposition camps shifted into high gear as the filing of nominations for the presidential election began.

BJP sources have said the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) candidate for the top constitutional post is likely to file nomination before Prime Minister Narendra Modi leaves for the United States on 25 June. The last date for filing of nomination is 28 June.

He said the 10-member opposition panel would meet again to decide on a suitable presidential nominee. He, however, did not give any timeframe. Sources said the leaders would discuss names but await a government initiative in this regard. Here's a look at what has happened so far:

BJP reaches out

After a prolonged silence on the issue, BJP chief Amit Shah constituted a three-member committee on Wednesday, comprising Union ministers — Rajnath Singh, Arun Jaitley and M Venkaiah Naidu — which would hold consultations with NDA allies and the Opposition on the subject. They will meet Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Friday.

File image of Venkaiah Naidu. Firstpost

File image of Venkaiah Naidu. Firstpost

Apart from Gandhi, the BJP panel has also reached out to CPM's Sitaram Yechury, BSP's Satish Misra and NCP's Praful Patel and would be meeting leaders of these parties separately to discuss the issue of a joint candidate.

They ruled out filing of nomination by its candidate this week as the consultation process will take more time with Singh and Naidu's meeting with Congress chief Sonia Gandhi on Friday as they work to evolve a consensus. They are likely to meet Yechury just after meeting Gandhi.

Naidu on Wednesday spoke to Anbumani Ramadoss of the PMK, N Rangaswamy of the All India NR Congress, BSP's Misra and Praful Patel, sources said. He will also speak to most of the regional outfits from south India. On Thursday, Naidu spoke to NCP chief Sharad Pawar, who is part of the opposition bloc, and TDP chief N Chandrababu Naidu, a BJP ally.

In the meanwhile, Jaitley will be speaking to leaders such as Bihar chief minister and JD(U) leader Nitish Kumar, while Singh may talk to West Bengal chief minister and TMC chief Mamata Banerjee. The home minister (Singh) is likely to speak to Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray as well.

The BJP will talk to all political parties in the "true spirit of democracy" to evolve a broad consensus on the presidential nominee, Naidu had said on Tuesday.

Naidu, however, "appealed to all that they should go by the mandate of the people which is for this government", in what is seen as a subtle message to opposition parties to be agreeable to the BJP-led NDA's choice for the top constitutional post.

Amid consultation among political parties, the BJP has given little indication of its choice for the top post.

Congress and consensus candidate

Amid reports of a meeting between Naidu and Gandhi, Congress added to the speculations on Thursday saying that it would prefer a consensus presidential candidate and it would be good if the government understood this.

"The Congress party has tried to bring about a consensus on every important issue. But the picture is not yet clear on the issue of the presidential election," said Congress senior spokesperson Anand Sharma.

Representational image. AFP

Representational image. AFP

He said it would be better if the government also understood the need for unanimity on the issue. "It will be good if there is a consensus. But I cannot say anything as of now," he said.

Opposition leaders had met on Wednesday to chalk out a strategy for the upcoming presidential poll but no names were discussed in the first round of talks of a nine-party sub-group set up for the purpose, members said.

As the process for the filing of nominations for the 17 July election started, 10 opposition leaders met in the Parliament chamber of the Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha, Ghulam Nabi Azad.

The leaders included Azad and Mallikarjun Kharge from the Congress, JD-U's Sharad Yadav, RJD's Lalu Prasad, CPI-M's Sitaram Yechury and NCP's Praful Patel. Derek O'Brien of the TMC, RS Bharathi of the DMK, Ram Gopal Yadav of the Samajwadi Party and Satish Chandra Misra from the BSP were also present at the meeting.

Azad had said that the leaders of 17 opposition parties had met at a lunch hosted by Congress President Sonia Gandhi in May, where it was decided that a sub-committee would be set up to take forward discussions on the subject.

"A sub-committee was formed in which leaders of nine parties were included, as there was a need for a smaller committee," he said.

Asked if the government was trying to break opposition unity, Azad said, "The government is going to talk to opposition leaders separately and not collectively. All opposition parties are totally united."

So far, Naidu has reportedly already reached out to NCP leader Praful Patel for a meeting with NCP strongman Sharad Pawar and BSP's Satish Chandra Misra for a meeting with party leader Mayawati. "They will talk and we will see. They have expressed the desire to meet my leader in the next few days," Mishra had said on Wednesday.

The likely names

Opposition leaders like Sharad Yadav have made it clear that they will put up a joint candidate if the saffron party picks a nominee with strong Hindutva leanings. Asked about the Shiv Sena throwing up BJP leader L K Advani's name as a possible candidate, Congress' Ghulam Nabi Azad  said, "You wait and see what happens."

File image of Gopalkrishna Gandhi. PIB

File image of Gopalkrishna Gandhi. PIB

Even though no names were discussed at Wednesday's meeting, sources said the opposition leaders would try and come out with some possible names but will await the government's initiative in this regard.

The BJP has not declared any names yet, however, speculation is rife that the BJP may pick from Sushma Swaraj, LK Advani and Mohan Bhagwat. But Bhagwat's open rejection of the suggestion and Advani's involvement in the Babri Masjid demolition case make them a dicey choice. All of which makes Swaraj a probable candidate. But then the BJP may not be willing to risk the PR that Swaraj has generated for the government as a minister of external affairs.

While BJP is holding its cards close to its chest, the Opposition has already mooted the names of possible candidates and has even held talks with one — former West Bengal Governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi. A retired bureaucrat and a scholar, he is one of Mahatma Gandhi's grandsons.

The Left parties are mulling to propose the candidature of Gandhi for the post, said sources in the CPM and CPI. "We are thinking of proposing the name of Gopalkrishna Gandhi. He does not have an affiliation with any political party," sources in the Left parties said.

However, they added that the parties would also have no objection if JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav was picked as a candidate.

"If Sharad Yadav's name comes up, we will have no objection. He is a senior opposition leader...a man of integrity and honesty," a Left leader said on the condition of anonymity.

Former Lok Sabha speaker Meira Kumar's name is also doing the rounds, as is that of former Union minister Sharad Pawar. The NCP leader, like SAD's Parkash Singh Badal, however, has denied being in the race.

While Chandrababu said he would support Prime Minister Narendra Modi's call on the presidential nominee, Pawar offered no assurance and said he would be in the national capital in a few days for further talks on the matter.

Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) chief Ram Vilas Paswan on Thursday said his party would support the NDA nominee. "Our party has decided to support a presidential candidate chosen by the prime minister. Whosoever the prime minister names, we will support that person," Paswan said from London. His LJP is a constituent of the ruling NDA.

Ruling Party's confidence

The BJP-led NDA is comfortably placed for the 17 July presidential polls with a majority of votes on its side, Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis said on Wednesday.

Fadnavis said the NDA at present had 54 percent of the total votes in its favour and suggested more parties were "ready to cooperate" with the BJP, taking the tally of votes to 65 percent.

The arithmetic in the electoral college favours the NDA, which has 48.6 percent votes of its own. It is also expected to get the support of the Telangana Rashtriya Samiti (TRS), which rules Telangana, the YSRCP of Andhra Pradesh and the AIADMK, which is in power in Tamil Nadu. However, the chief minister did not name the parties. The electoral college for the presidential polls is 11,04,546 votes.

The BJP's electoral victory in the recent Assembly polls may also help determine the presidential candidate in its favour.

Independent nominations

While the ruling and opposition parties are still not decided, so far eight persons have filed nominations for the presidential poll, including a couple from Mumbai who would like very much if one of the became president and the other vice-president.

Amongst those who have filed nominations are the Patel couples from Mumbai — Saira Bano Mohammed Patel and Mohammed Patel Abdul Hamid — K Padmaraja from Tamil Nadu, Anand Singh Kushwaha from Madhya Pradesh, Bala Raj from Telangana, Kondekar Vijayprakash from Pune, and Jeevan Kumar Mittal from the national capital.

The nominations of all eight are liable to be rejected as none had the signatures of 50 proposers and as many seconders from the list of electors, essential for a valid nomination.

With inputs from PTI


Published Date: Jun 15, 2017 10:13 pm | Updated Date: Jun 15, 2017 10:13 pm

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