Given how the numbers stand in the electoral college, the results of the presidential and vice-presidential elections are of little beyond academic interest. Unless something dramatic takes place, the UPA’s candidates, Pranab Mukherjee and Hamid Ansari, are likely to sail through without a hitch. The BJP-led NDA is just registering its presence by not allowing the rival political formation a walkover.
Against this backdrop, the nomination of senior leader Jaswant Singh as vice-president candidate by the NDA does not give much reason for excitement. He is a strong candidate, nearly equal in stature to Pranab Mukherjee. One wonders, what stopped the BJP from declaring him its presidential candidate in the first place. It waited for the nod from a reluctant APJ Abdul Kalam instead before finally throwing its weight behind the AIADMK-BJD backed PA Sangma. Jaswant Singh as the presidential candidate would have made the battle more interesting.
If the game plan was to expand the scope of the NDA by keeping potential allies in good humour, it was not a bad one. However, it appeared to be wisdom in hindsight. The BJP could have convinced both AIADMK and the BJD to pitch Sangma for vice-president. It was clearly in a state of disarray then, in confusion over its course of action and was not in a position to set the agenda. It was too late to get into the action.
The recent developments are interesting in view of how the NDA is going to shape up before the general elections of 2014. There are two distinct scenarios here: one, with Narendra Modi in the leadership position, more specifically as the political formation’s prime ministerial candidate; and the other without him. The NDA’s success depends a lot on how the BJP finds the balance between the two or whether it takes a bold position and chooses one of the options.
The run-up to the vice-presidential election reveals that the NDA has not collapsed though it still remains a very loose entity. The JD(U)’s revolt a few weeks ago over support to Pranab Mukherjee and its demand that the NDA declare its prime ministerial candidate well in advance had created the impression that the formation was pulling in different directions without a centre to hold the constituents together. What queered the pitch was the Shiv Sena’s unilateral declaration of support to Pranab.
The equations among the NDA allies look much better now. The joint fight for Jaswant could bind them stronger. However, it has to be noted that what is missing the mix right now is the Modi factor. JD(U) leader Nitish Kumar’s hardtalk on the presidential candidate had come not too far away from the Gujarat chief minister asserting himself as the first among unequals in the BJP and strengthening his claim as the NDA’s potential prime ministerial candidate.
Once Modi comes into the frame, the picture of unity tends to get distorted. However much the BJP tries to market him as the ‘vikas purush’, the debate over his secular credentials will come to hog the centre stage — it’s an inevitability. Even if the so called secular parties within the NDA such as the JD(U) chose to ignore it—which they won’t in all probability—it will be parties such as the Shiv Sena and BJP’s mother outfit RSS who would bring the topic in the public domain in full force and make it the big talking point. The subsequent churning in the NDA is likely to leave it shaky.
The intelligent decision for the party would be to keep the issue of the BJP’s prime ministerial hanging till the elections are over. Once victory is ensured, it could chalk out a different strategy looking at the numbers position. If the margin is of victory is good enough, it can dump troublesome allies. However, for now it priority would be to keep the NDA allies together.
The vice-presidential election has provided the formation that opportunity. However, the question still remains why the BJP did not field Jaswant as the president candidate.