Indian presidential polls: Opposition to forge strong coalition

Indian presidential polls: Opposition to forge strong coalition

Kolkata Correspondent,
Indian president Pranab Mukherjee

Indian president Pranab Mukherjee has just two and a half months left in office and yet neither the ruling BJP nor the opposition has named any candidate for the presidential polls so far.

Behind the scenes, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been mulling over the issue with its ideological mentor RSS. And the opposition parties are considering a coalition to contest in the presidential election. Congress president Sonia Gandhi has already begun talking to other opposition political parties, keeping the young and enthusiastic vice president of the party, Rahul Gandhi, out of the discussions.

Rather than focusing on any particular candidate, the opposition parties are discussing the formation of a secular alliance to use the presidential polls as a platform to rehearse for the 2019 general elections. They are interested in fielding one common candidate for president.

Last week Janata Dal (United) leader and chief minister of Bihar Nitish Kumar, CPIM general secretary Sitaram Yechury, CPI leader D Raja and other political leaders held talks with Sonia Gandhi. Yesterday, (27 April) Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar also held talks with Sonia Gandhi and he might come forward as a candidate for presidency. Earlier, Yechury also held talks with Sharad Pawar and Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad regarding the proposed opposition alliance. The opposition camp wants to use the presidential election to build up a strong secular coalition from now. Sonia has informed the leaders of the other opposition parties that Congress is interested in reaching an understanding with the secular forces in order to thwart the Hindutva champion BJP.

With its strength having depleted all over India, Congress was forced quite some time back to give up its solo stance. It seems to have fallen flat on its face during Modi’s rule and so now the party leaders are reaching out to others beyond UPA.

When UPA was in power, its leaders would contest separately in their respective states, but now it is felt that Modi cannot be tackled in this dislocated manner. The success of the grand alliance forged in Bihar during the last election is being taken as an example. Both Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati of Uttara Pradesh are also being eyed for inclusion in the alliance. There is also hope that Odisha’s Naveen Patnaik and West Bengal’s Mamata Banerjee will be active partners of the alliance.  Jagan Reddy of Andhra Pradesh and one-time ally of UPA in Telengana, Chandrasekar Rao will also be wooed for inclusion in the coalition. There are efforts to draw Gujarat’ Hardik Patel into the grouping too.

Despite this flurry of activity over the presidential election, no one has proposed the name of any candidates as yet. The opposition wants to see who the ruling party puts up as their candidate and select their one accordingly.

Though Prime Minister Narendra Modi had once hinted as ‘rewarding’ BJP’s stalwart Lal Krishna Advani, his name has been dropped as the Supreme Court recently named Advani as one of the conspirators in the Babri mosque demolition case. This has sparked off conflict within BJP. In fact Lalu Prasad Yadav has said that Modi intentionally instigated CBI so as to prevent Advani or Joshi from contesting in the presidential race. BJP lawmaker Vinay Katihar agrees with Lalu Prasad, saying that the old leaders of the party are intentionally being shunted out despite their contribution to bring BJP to its present state.

Meanwhile, BJP strong Hindutva ally in Maharashtra, Shiv Sena, has created a stir by opening proposing the name of RSS head Mohan Bhagwat for president. His strong Hindu fundamentalist leader has said he is not interested in presidency, but Shiv Sena sees him as the appropriate man for office.

Then again, keeping future politics in mind, BJP is also considering a candidate from the Dalit community. In this regard, Jharkand governor Draupadi Murmu is being considered. She is a woman and of the indigenous community. Modi and Amit Shah feel they can easily win over the Dalits if she is selected. It will make things difficult for the opposition too.

In the meantime, though Pranab Mukherjee had denied any interest in becoming president for a second term, sources say he may acquiesce if BJP selects him as candidate. The opposition too is eyeing Pranab as their candidate, though they are keeping all options open. The name of Sharad Pawar has cropped up too in the opposition camp. In Maharashtra, Shiv Sena has also said it will back Sharad Pawar.

Coalition or no coalition, whatever strategy the opposition may adopt, they will not succeed in grabbing the presidential office with a common candidate, according to political analysts. Its recent success in the election and formation of governments in four states has given BJP the upper hand.

The president of India is elected by an electoral college that is formed by 776 parliamentarians and 4,120 legislators. The total strength of the electoral college is 1,098,882 votes and the halfway mark is 549,442.

The National Democratic Alliance’s vote share was 474,366 before the recent elections. Now it becomes 529,398 votes.  So the BJP-led alliance is now short of only 20,044 votes and the deficit can be easily bridged if NDA can strike a deal with non-UPA parties like Biju Janata Dal of Odisha and AIADMK of Tamil Nadu and independents.  BJD’s vote share in the electoral college is 17,433 by virtue of having 117 legislators. On the other hand, if AIADM give their support to NDA candidate, it can contribute 23,584 votes as the party has 134 legislators in the state assembly.