Nitish Kumar and co are attempting to force a choice on the government by suggesting that it nominate President Pranab Mukherjee for a second term as a consensus candidate of all parties, top sources in the BJP told NDTV, stating that the opposition must respect the situation as it is on Wednesday. For the first time ever, they said, the BJP has a chance to ensure that a political person with no link to the Congress becomes President of the country and, with no offence to President Mukherjee, the ruling party would like a candidate of its choice even if it means a contest. The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has the numbers to ensure its nominee wins.
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had on Monday suggested that the ruling BJP initiate talks with the opposition and build a consensus of all parties to nominate President Mukherjee for a second term. The Congress has indicated it that it will support such a move as has West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee reportedly at a meeting on Tuesday with Congress chief Sonia Gandhi. President Mukherjee, a former Congressman, has reportedly made it clear that he will consider a second term only if the government nominates him.
But the BJP wants to field one of its own for President; a senior party leader has called it an ideological battle. The government signaled its stand when it asked Union Minister Mahesh Sharma to vacate his official residence at Delhi’s 10 Rajaji Marg so that it could be readied for Mr Mukherjee to live in after his term ends in July. BJP leaders said there is no change.
The party has been prepping for the presidential elections. In elections to the Rajya Sabha or upper house of parliament, where it is in a minority, the BJP has aggressively tried to add numbers. It forced contests for extra seats in Madhya Pradesh and Jharkhand last year – succeeded in one state, didn’t in the other.
The party has also asked Manohar Parrikar, who quit as Defence Minister in March to become Goa Chief Minister, not to resign from parliament before the presidential elections in July. Ditto Yogi Adityanath and Keshav Prasad Maurya, who have taken over as Chief Minister and Deputy Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi made the effort to meet Andhra Pradesh politician Jaganmohan Reddy last week to secure the support of his YSR Congress for the NDA’s candidate.
The President and Vice President are elected by members of both houses of parliament and those of state legislatures. After its mammoth win in the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections in March this year, the BJP, along with its allies, has about 48.5 per cent of the vote and with Mr Reddy’s avowal of support needs only a few other friendly parties to help it make the 51 per cent needed.
No names have been discussed yet, sources said, and top BJP leaders will confer with the party’s ideological mentor, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, next month to decide on their candidate. There has been speculation that Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan, senior BJP leader and union Minister M Venkaiah Naidu and Draupadi Murmu, right now the governor of Jharkhand, are in the running.
Opposition parties have been meeting to decide on a common candidate to take on the NDA’s nominee.
The only person from a non-Congress background to have been President so far was APJ Abdul Kalam, who had no political links. No President except Dr Rajendra Prasad has had a second term. The Congress, then in power, had nixed a second term for Dr Kalam because it wanted a leader with a Congress background to be President and picked Pratibha Patil.