New Delhi: With the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) refusing to play ball and support the ruling United Progressive Alliance’s (UPA) choice of candidate for the President’s post in return for support for its vice-presidential candidate, the July election to the largely ceremonial head-of-state role promises to be interesting.
The Congress, the dominant constituent of UPA, has initiated efforts to zero in on a consensus candidate.
No consensus: BJP leader Sushma Swaraj. By Hindustan Times
BJP leader Sushma Swaraj, also leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha, ruled out supporting vice-president Hamid Ansari or finance minister Pranab Mukherjee. Ansari’s term ends in June and President Pratibha Patil’s in July.
“We will not accept any Congress candidate, including Pranab Mukherjee, for the President’s post,” Swaraj told reporters.
However, she seemed more amenable to a suggestion from the Samajwadi Party that former president APJ Abdul Kalam be considered for another term. “If SP suggests his name, we will support him.”
She added that her party is also open to talking with the Nationalist Congress Party and the Trinamool Congress, both members of the UPA, that have seen their relationship with the Congress sour in recent times.
Swaraj indicated that the stand is consistent with her party’s strategy for 2014, when the next general election is scheduled.
“We are looking at the 2014 elections and do not want to give the impression that we have any truck with the Congress.”
Analysts said the President could play a key role in 2014 with no party likely to emerge from the elections with a clear majority.
Under the Indian Constitution, the President decides which political party to invite to form a government in case of a hung Parliament.
UPA would fall short of the votes required to have its candidate elected President, according to an analysis of the current electoral college by the Centre for Media Studies (CMS), as reported by Mint on 21 March. The electoral college comprises members of the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha and state assemblies, adjusted on the basis of the population of the state (which means using a multiplier).
The CMS study showed that the Congress, which has 207 members in the Lok Sabha and 71 in the Rajya Sabha today, has only 31% of the 1,098,882 votes. The BJP, leader of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), has 51 seats in the 238-member Rajya Sabha and 113 in the 543-member Lok Sabha, 24% of the votes.
No candidate can become the next president of India without the support of regional parties unless there is a consensus on the candidate between the NDA and the UPA in their present combinations.
A person familiar with the development said that although Congress president Sonia Gandhi held talks with top leaders on the presidential election, they didn’t discuss prospective candidates. Congress leaders close to finance minister Pranab Mukherjee admitted that the 76-year-old veteran Congress leader is keen to succeed Patil but added that the party leadership has not been able to find a replacement for Mukherjee, who is seen as the main troubleshooter for the UPA.
Mukherjee himself denied that he could be a candidate. “Oh my goodness, don’t indulge in speculation,” he told reporters outside Parliament House.
Swaraj said her party is willing to have an understanding with the non-Congress parties. “We can have an understanding with non-Congress parties where we support their presidential candidate and they support our vice-presidential candidate... We will contest to win. We will work out an arithmetic.”
PTI contributed to this story.