New Delhi: The presidential election has created fissures in all the three main political groups, with the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and the Left parties divided on their choice for head of state.
The main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Thursday formally announced its support for former Lok Sabha speaker P.A. Sangma’s candidature, but some of its key allies in the NDA, including the Shiv Sena, are backing UPA candidate Pranab Mukherjee, currently the finance minister.
The Left parties, too, are divided on Mukherjee. The biggest Left party, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM, and the All India Forward Bloc (AIFB) have extended support to the finance minister as he is likely to have the widest acceptance. But the Communist Party of India (CPI) and the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) have decided to abstain from voting.
And within the Congress party-led UPA, the Trinamool Congress, or TMC, continues to oppose Mukherjee, and there were indications it might back Sangma.
Presidential candidate P.A . Sangma. Photo: HT
The BJP’s Sushma Swaraj, leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha, said, “UPA did not do any prior consultation. We were informed and asked to support the candidature. BJP does not want to be seen supporting a failed UPA government and has decided that we support the independent candidature of Sangma.”
Swaraj said the BJP does not want Mukherjee to be elected unopposed, considering his handling of the economy. The slowing pace of India’s economic growth is being blamed both on global factors as well as on the government’s policies, or lack of them.
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But, along with the Shiv Sena, the Janata Dal (United), or JDU, another key ally of the BJP-led NDA, too, has announced its support for Mukherjee.
“There will be no impact on the NDA. We trust that they (JDU and Shiv Sena) will rethink. Even if they don’t, it will not have a bearing on NDA ties,” Arun Jaitley, BJP leader and leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha, said in a press conference with Swaraj.
G.V.L. Bhaskar Rao, Delhi-based political analyst, said these divisions among the alliances are temporary and will not have any bearing in the long run.
“If they have no opposition to Pranab Mukherjee, who failed on all fronts in his ministry, who are they opposing in this government. But I still think these divisions are only in terms of (the) presidential elections and would not have any bearing for 2014. Their parties and the BJP mutually need each other for their electoral survival,” he said.
“Pranab Mukherjee is neither a Bihari and nor a Maharashtrian, then what consideration or compulsion do they (the JDU and the Shiv Sena, respectively) have in supporting him as a presidential candidate. And also, it is difficult to understand that these parties are supporting Congress whom they opposed tooth and nail,” Rao added.
A meeting of the Left parties on Thursday ended without a consensus on the presidential election scheduled for 19 July. After the meeting, all the four Left parties held separate media briefings.
“The CPM has decided to support the candidature of Pranab Mukherjee. In the present situation, he is the candidate for the post of president who has the widest acceptance,” said Prakash Karat, CPM general secretary.
“If all the four Left parties would have been together, it would have been good for the progress of the country, but on this issue, we will walk separate paths,” AIFB general secretary Debabrata Biswas said, announcing his party’s support for Mukherjee.
Both the AIFB and the CPM, however, said they will continue to oppose the economic policies of the UPA. “The CPM will continue to oppose the UPA government and resolutely fight neo-liberal economic policies being pursued, which are against the interests of the people,” Karat said.
A.B. Bardhan, veteran Left leader and general secretary of the CPI, which along with the RSP decided to abstain from voting, stressed that the Left Front parties will stay united.
“Each of the Left parties before coming to this meeting had their own separate meetings and they have taken certain positions for their party. In this meeting they expressed their position and they found that this was not the same,” he told reporters. “In the meanwhile, we have decided that the Left Front will continue as ever, it will continue to be united as ever. This is only one single instance where there is a difference of opinion, a slight difference of opinion.”
Opinion within the CPM hadn’t been unanimous, a politburo member said on condition of anonymity. “The 15-member politburo was deeply divided with seven leaders from Kerala including Karat opposing and others backing Mukherjee,” this person said. “Those who opposed argued that supporting a Congress member would be interpreted as Left favouring its policies, while others pointed out that the party had earlier decided to stand by the candidate who has wider acceptance.”
The latter group also argued that backing Mukherjee when the CPM’s arch-rival Mamata Banerjee was opposing him would be politically wise for the party, the member added.
The TMC's Banerjee is the chief minister of West Bengal, previously a CPM stronghold.
With JDU and Shiv Sena support, Mukherjee is assured of at least 588,000 votes, more than the 549,442 votes needed. The CPM’s and the AIFB’s backing will further increase his tally.
The NDA, excluding the JDU and the Shiv Sena, will have 310,000 votes. Even if the TMC endorses Sangma, he may have only up to 356,000 votes.
PDF by Ahmed Raza Khan/Mint.
Liz Mathew and PTI contributed to this story.