After the rush of assembly elections got over, the election commission has opened the file on the presidential election. The current term of Pranab Mukherjee ends in about 100 days. The commission is getting the electoral college details together, as members of Parliament and legislative assemblies vote to elect the first citizen of India. The value of vote varies, as the votes of each parliamentarian is more compared to that of legislators. Even among legislators, MLAs from a populous state like Uttar Pradesh and Bengal have higher value than tiny states like Goa or Himachal Pradesh. The BJP, which recorded big victories in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, is more confident, as with the votes of its allies, the party is short by a small margin, to reach the halfway mark. Out of the 10.98 lakh votes, the NDA is short by 25000 votes to reach the middle mark of 5.25 lakh votes.
Even as the commission works out the dates - polling all over the country in parliament house and state legislatures would be held on a single day in late June - political parties are looking at the possibilities. The BJP is particular one of its members should become the president, as during the Vajpayee era, due to lack of numbers, the party had to settle for A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, who was not a member of any political party.
In fact, Chandrababu Naidu of Telugu Desham, who was part of NDA and Mulayam Singh Yadav of Samajwadi Party, who was in the opposition claimed credit for persuading the then prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee to accept the missile man for the presidency. Vajpayee's decision had shocked the RSS and its then chief K.S. Sudarshan had said he did not expect it from the BJP, which is part of Sangh Parivar.
Prime minister Narendra Modi, an RSS pracharak at one time, would not annoy the powerful parent body by picking a non-party man. In fact, after the surprise selection of Yogi Adityanath as the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, the RSS could
have a big say in the choice of the candidate, apart from Modi and his trusted aide Amit Shah.
Modi has kept the cards close to his chest, not revealing his mind even to his own senior cabinet ministers. But Shah has been asked to prepare a preliminary list looking at the various political benefits that can be derived from each option. The names doing the rounds include senior ministers like Rajnath Singh, Sushma Swaraj and Venkaiah Naidu, Lok Sabha speaker Sumitra Mahajan, governors who are BJP members like O.P. Kohli of Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh; Vidyasagar Rao of Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu; Draupadi Murmu of Bihar and Ram Naik of Uttar Pradesh.
In a different situation, party would have considered its veterans like L.K. Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi, who were party presidents also. But Narendra Modi is not in a close relationship with them anymore, and also they are mired in the Babri Masjid demolition criminal conspiracy case. Modi is working on the strategy to ensure that the BJP nominee would get a big majority, and informal approaches have been made to leaders like Mulayam Singh Yadav, Nitish Kumar and Sharad Pawar to support the BJP candidate. If these three leaders decide to support the BJP, then it would be a smooth sailing.
On the other hand, Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad is talking to the non-UPA opposition parties to see whether a combined candidate can be fielded against the BJP. He has made approaches to Mamata Banerjee, Naveen Patnaik, Sitaram Yechury, Sharad Yadav, Nitish Kumar and AIADMK deputy general secretary T.T.V. Dinakaran. While AIADMK has the third largest block of MPs in Parliament after the BJP and Congress, Trinamool Congress has the fourth largest block, followed by Biju Janata Dal. One idea of the opposition is to propose the name of outgoing president Pranab Mukherjee as the consensus candidate, as he enjoys a good rapport among non-Congress parties.
But the BJP has not shown any inclination towards Mukherjee's candidature so far. another suggestion in the opposition is to ask outgoing vice-president Hamid Ansari to be a common candidate. They point out, earlier too, vice-presidents like Bhairon Singh Shekhawat had contested the presidential elections, though without success.
Once the parliament session concludes on Wednesday, the pace of politicking to select the 14th presidential occupant of Rashtrapati Bhavan will pick up.