Having established a muscular majority in the country for the first time ever, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is unlikely to let go of the moment or its chance to create political history by naming a saffron candidate as its President nominee for 2017. After all, the party will have the best shot at having a person of its choice at Rashtrapati Bhavan.
A battle of attrition began on Friday with major opposition parties making it clear to the government that a consensus on the President’s election will not be possible without the ruling side giving the name of its candidate, a demand that was termed as “inappropriate”.
The government formally began its outreach with the opposition on the presidential election with senior ministers Rajnath Singh and M. Venkaiah Naidu meeting Congress President Sonia Gandhi, but placed no name of its nominee.
Instead, the BJP team sought from the Congress leadership the name of the opposition candidate for the July 17 election.
The opposition leaders were told that the government and the BJP would like to finalise the candidate for the presidential poll before Prime Minister Narendra Modi leaves on a three-nation trip on June 24.
“The BJP leaders did not give any name to Congress President Sonia Gandhi but they wanted us to reveal the name of our candidate. We were expecting them to disclose the name so that we can discuss it in our party and other opposition parties. Since no names were given from the government side and since no names are being given, there is no question of any discussion and cooperation,” Ghulam Nabi Azad, who was present at the meeting, told reporters later.
“They should give us the name and then seek cooperation,” he said.
Questioned about the purpose of the meeting, Mallikarjun Kharge, who was also present said, “That was only to meet, and they are seeking cooperation. And what I can guess is just they are seeking cooperation because they have already got something in their mind. That’s why they have not given the name.”
Singh and Naidu are part of the three-member team constituted by Bharatiya Janata Party president Amit Shah for discussion with political parties for the presidential polls.
The two-member team later met CPI-M General Secretary Sitaram Yechury, Prakash Karat and Brinda Karat to seek the party’s support.
Yechury virtually echoed the views of the Congress leaders and expressed dismay over the government not suggesting a name.
“We had expected that they would suggest some name which we could have seriously considered. Unfortunately, they did not come forward with any name,” Yechury said, terming it a “public relations exercise” by the government.
He made it clear that support can be given to a candidate who has impeccable secular credentials and one who can uphold the Constitution.
“We would have certainly thought about such a person, but they did not suggest any name. So, there is nothing to think about when they did not suggest any name,” Yechury said.
The senior communist leader said the government side has assured them they would come up with a name after three-four days and “sought our support”.
On speculation doing the rounds that the Left parties want former West Bengal Governor Gopal Krishna Gandhi as the opposition nominee, he said, “They (government) know. The names that we are discussing are in public domain.”
However, government sources said disclosing the name of its candidate before consultations with political parties may not be appropriate.
Sources said the government and the BJP are of the view that approaching different parties with one or a panel of names for approval without knowing their views and suggestions may not be appropriate.
They said the two-member BJP team, which met Congress president and other leaders, explained to them that the twin objectives of the consultation process was to have the benefit of views and suggestions of various parties in the matter and to seek their support.
Accordingly the support of Congress and other parties was sought, they said, adding that some political parties have already indicated their views in the matter of selection of a candidate.
The two senior leaders in their meeting with CPI-M leaders suggested to them to consider if putting up a candidate for the sake of it was necessary.
Naidu also spoke to NCP chief Sharad Pawar over telephone and held detailed discussions. Later he met CPI General Secretary S. Sudhakar Reddy. Naidu has already talked to Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu, who is also the chief of ally TDP, PMK leader Anbumani Ramadoss and N. Rangaswamy of the All India Congress (NR) and sought their cooperation.
While the Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister has assured Naidu that his party would stand by the decision of the Prime Minister, Pawar told him that he would come to Delhi and discuss the issue.
Meanwhile, BJP ally Shiv Sena floated the name of eminent agriculture scientist M.S. Swaminathan for the top job if its “first choice” RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat was not acceptable.
In the same breath, Sena President Uddhav Thackeray also said that if the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president has a good candidate, his party (Sena) would give it a thought.
He expressed the party’s desire to have a “consensus candidate”, who would be elected without a contest.
“If we want to make India a ‘Hindu Rashtra’, then Bhagwat is our first choice, first preference. But if anybody has objections to him, then Swaminathan should be made the President,” Thackeray told media persons.
However, he added that “we are also known as a ‘Krishi pradhan desh’ and hence it is appropriate that we have a person like Swaminathan” as President.
In a dig at Naidu, Yechury said that in the last general elections, the opposition had got the highest vote share and therefore the mandate of the people is with the opposition.
“In the last Lok Sabha polls, the BJP got 31 per cent vote share and with all the NDA parties it was 39 per cent, while the opposition got 61 per cent vote share. So the country’s mandate is with opposition’s candidate,” Yechury said.
On Tuesday, Naidu had said that the presidential candidate will be decided in the true spirit of democracy — “going by the mandate of the people — and the mandate of people is for the government”.
Earlier, party MP Sanjay Raut demanded that Swaminathan’s name be considered for President if the BJP was not ready for nominating Bhagwat.
The Sena statements came barely 48 hours before a Shah-Thackeray “summit” scheduled for Sunday morning to solicit and secure its support for an NDA candidate for the Rashtrapati Bhavan.
In fact, on at least two previous occasions, the Sena had jolted the NDA by supporting Congress nominees — former President Pratibha Patil in 2009 and later current President Pranab Mukherjee in 2012.
Swaminathan, 91, decorated with Padma Shree (1967), Padma Bhushan (1972) and Padma Vibhushan (1989), is acknowledged globally as “The Father of Green Revolution” of the 1960s, which catapulted the world’s second-most populated country to self-sufficiency in food.
Currently, he is Emeritus Chairman of the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation, based in Chennai, which he founded in 1987.
Swaminathan was ranked by Time magazine among 20 Most Influential Asians of the 20th century, along with Mahatma Gandhi and Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore.
In 2014, he was made Chairman of the National Commission on Farmers, which submitted its report with recommendations on the agrarian crises in the farmlands across the country. (IANS)