As the BJP Reaches Out on Presidential Candidates, Opposition Still Wary of Its Intent

No candidate’s names have been announced so far by the ruling party or the opposition.

Union ministers Rajnath Singh and Venkaiah Naidu meeting with CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury in New Delhi on Friday. Credit: PTI/Kamal Singh

Union ministers Rajnath Singh and Venkaiah Naidu meeting with CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury in New Delhi on Friday. Credit: PTI/Kamal Singh

New Delhi: The search for India’s next president showed some signs of further movement as Union ministers Rajnath Singh and M. Venkaiah Naidu, who along with Arun Jaitley, are part of BJP’s committee for coordinating with the opposition, today reached out to Congress president Sonia Gandhi and CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury to discuss the issue. However, as the BJP leaders did not put forth any names at the two meeting, both of which lasted around half an hour, uncertainty persisted on whether the ruling party and the opposition will be able to find a consensus candidate.

BJP asked the Congress for names

The two BJP leaders first met Gandhi at her 10 Janpath residence. Senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad, who is also heading a ten-member committee of opposition parties and who participated in this meeting along with leader of opposition in Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge, said no names could be discussed at the meeting as the visiting ministers did not propose any. “We expected that BJP leaders will come up with some name, one or more, for the post of president of India, so that the Congress party could take a call on that. But nothing of that happened. BJP leaders did not propose any name and instead asked us the names,” he said.

Azad, who had on Wednesday convened a meeting of the opposition parties at his chamber in parliament to discuss the issue, said rather than proposing any names for the post, the BJP leaders asked the Congress if it had any suggestions. “No name came up from the government side and they said they have not yet decided on the name. Whenever they decide on the name, they will seek our cooperation and come back. Till the time any name comes, there is no question of discussion or support,” he said.

Kharge also said there was no question of consensus at this stage. “They have not given any names; since they have not given names, there is no question of consensus. If they give the names, only then can we discuss them. There is no question of consensus,” he said.

On how the opposition views the development of BJP reaching out, Kharge said, “We all political parties have taken a stand that we will take a call unitedly. When the name has not come, there is no question of any discussion.”

Also read: Congress Says No Proposal Received From BJP for Meeting on Presidential Candidate

More of a public relations exercise

Yechury, who the two Union ministers called on later in the day, also said they did not propose any name. Reiterating his party’s stand that it would only support a candidate with “impeccable secular credentials”, he said the BJP’s outreach was “more like a PR exercise”. But he said the BJP leaders have promised another meeting on the subject.

Later in the day, Congress general secretary Ajay Maken said at a party briefing that by not revealing any names, BJP has not helped the cause of consensus. On being asked about the Congress’s opposition to inclusion of the Aam Aadmi Party in the panel of opposition parties, as some party leaders had described it as being close to RSS and being a B-team of the BJP, Maken said he too believed in this. “I have said this before too – that the way AAP took on some key leaders in both Goa and Punjab, it was clearly meant to benefit the BJP.”

Maken said the Congress is keen to follow the decision of the ten-member opposition committee on the issue.

Bhagwat’s meeting with president raises eyebrows

Meanwhile, the long meeting that former RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat had with President Pranab Mukherjee was also viewed with interest by those following the presidential polls. With Shiv Sena having suggested Bhagwat’s name in the past for the post, many wondered if the meeting had anything to do with the impending polls.

However, political analysts said it was unlikely that Bhagwat would pursue his own candidature in this manner. “And if that is the case, then it is highly unlikely that the opposition parties and BJP would be able to reach a consensus as no one would agree to such a proposal.”

Congress wary of BJP’s intent

While the Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi recently left for Italy to be with his ailing maternal grandmother, political circles were today abuzz with speculation over whether Sonia Gandhi would also be leaving to be with her mother.

With the Election Commission issuing the notification of the presidential elections due to be held on July 17 and the nomination process beginning, both the ruling National Democratic Alliance and the opposition parties are keen on settling the issue of a “mutually acceptable” presidential candidate expeditiously. BJP would also want to the nomination to be filed by the candidate before prime minister Narendra Modi leaves for his US tour on June 24.

BJP had started meeting or speaking to leaders of other political parties earlier this week. While it has already spoken to Pattali Makkal Katchi leader Anbumani Ramadoss and All India NR Congress leader N. Rangaswamy, Rajnath Singh is likely to meet Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee soon.

But despite its outreach, Congress leaders are wary of the actual intent of the BJP in taking the other parties along in coming up with a candidate who is truly acceptable to most parties. “We at our own end are speaking to all the parties and trying to bring as many on board as possible,” said a senior Congress spokesperson.

Gopal Krishna Gandhi is not the opposition candidate just yet

The senior leader said the Congress and opposition parties have not finalised their own candidate for the post as yet. “It is wrong to say that the Congress has either finalised Gopal Krishna Gandhi or anyone else as its candidate. First we will reach out to the other parties to see what they are agreeable with because first finalising the name would only make them wary of our intent. So discussing the prospective names only comes later,” he said.

The Congress has also been actively trying to keep the opposition flock together through the ten-member committee, which apart from Azad and Kharge comprises RJD chief Lalu Prasad, CPI(M)’s Yechury, NCP’s Praful Patel, JD(U)’s Sharad Yadav, TMC’s Derek O Brien, SP’s Ram Gopal Yadav, BSP’s Satish Chandra Mishra and DMK’s Alandur R S Bharthi. 

At its first meeting on Wednesday, some of the group constituents had stressed the need for putting up a “ideological and political fight” against the BJP and not to compromise. Some of the members had even cautioned in the meeting that the BJP was not serious about any consultations as it had the numbers with the support of YSR Congress to have its own candidate elected as president.

The opposition parties also believe that the BJP is playing its cards close and will not reveal the name of the candidate it has on its mind just yet. “The BJP had kept its chief ministerial candidates for Haryana, Jharkhand, Maharashtra and even Uttar Pradesh a closely-guarded secret till the last moment. There are just two people there who take all the decisions and we are quite sure the names which have been floated from its end till now are only covers,” said another Congress spokesperson.

Incidentally, for the post of president the name of Naidu had also done the rounds for some time, till he was nominated on the party’s selection panel. Similarly, when it comes to the names of Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan, senior leader Murli Manohar Joshi, UP governor Ram Naik, Union ministers Thawarchand Gehlot and Sushma Swaraj, and UP governor Ram Naik, other parties believe they are just names for the time being that may or may not emerge as the BJP’s candidates for the post of either president or vice president.

From the opposition parties, names doing the rounds other than Gopal Krishna Gandhi include former Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar and Sharad Yadav of the JD(U).

(With PTI inputs)

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