BJP bamboozles Opposition with Presidential consensus googly
The Narendra Modi government's decision to reach out to political parties for a consensus on the Presidential candidate has bamboozled the Opposition.
With the BJP having a clear numerical advantage over its rivals, the Opposition was not counting on such an outreach. However, these parties are viewing it as a formality, considering that the ruling party's emissaries, Union ministers Rajnath Singh and Venkaiah Naidu, didn't discuss any names when they met Congress president Sonia Gandhi and CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury on Friday.
After the meeting, both the Congress and the CPI(M) claimed that no consensus would be reached unless a name was proposed by the government. The two Union ministers are also set to hold talks with other Opposition parties, and have already succeeded in getting the support of the AIADMK, which has ruled out any chances of even a close contest.
Modi and Shah have decided
It's clear that through the formation of a three-man committee, also including Arun Jaitley, the government also wants to portray itself as an inclusive force, which is trying to reach out to its political rivals. It also gives the government a chance to reach out to regional forces which were drifting towards the Opposition camp.
But, in all probability, it is unlikely that the government emissaries would discuss any specific names with Opposition parties, since there is great possibility of even them not knowing about the BJP's choice.
PM Modi is well known for keeping his cards close to the chest, and is likely to prove all predictions wrong, as was the case in Uttar Pradesh when Yogi Adityanath was made the Chief Minister. Any speculation, thus, is largely meaningless.
A senior BJP leader, on the condition of anonymity, admitted that the decision has already been made, and this outreach is just a farce.
“The secret is, for the time being, safe with the Prime Minister and party president Amit Shah. They will let it out when they have to,” the leader said.
He is of the view that Modi and Shah must have already weighed all the options before zeroing in on a name.
Modi and Shah, who are known for their sharp political acumen, are most likely to go for a Dalit-Adivasi combination for the post of President and Vice-President. It is a move to appease these sections, which are increasingly feel alienated under the ruling dispensation.
Interestingly, by accommodating three Union ministers in the outreach panel, Modi and Shah have smartly taken them out of the race. BJP insiders claimed that these three, including Jaitley, were keen to be the party's Presidential nominees, with one of them even putting in a personal request with the Prime Minister.
But Modi ruled out any such possibility.
Even Union External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj's name has been doing the rounds, but considering her strained relationship with Modi, it could well end up being mere speculation.
Given his style of working, Modi would want a rubber-stamp President, and not a parallel power centre, who could challenge his authority anytime in the near future. It is for this very reason that party veterans LK Advani and MM Joshi have almost been ruled out of the race to Rashtrapati Bhavan.
It is for this reason that someone like Draupadi Murmu or Justice P Sathasivam could make the cut.
Whoever be the candidate, an announcement will be made before 24 June, when the PM leaves for his trip to Portugal, the Netherlands and the US, where he will meet President Donald Trump. Therefore, speculation over whether there would be a consensus candidate becomes irrelevant, considering the BJP and the RSS, for the first time, have the opportunity to send one of their own to Rashtrapati Bhavan.
The Congress set a precedent for this when it chose the relatively unknown Pratibha Patel over several other politically astute candidates. At that point, neither did the Congress hold any such consultations with other parties, nor with its own leadership.
With a clear numerical advantage, the BJP is not likely to change its mind and give in to the Opposition's demand to have a candidate with impeccable secular credentials, who is also committed to constitutional principles. “And why should they? After all, they have the mandate to do what they want to and choose whoever they wish to. In fact, it is foolish on the part of the Opposition to believe that the Sangh Parivar would play to the galleries and give in to their demands,” said the BJP leader.
In these circumstances, it is strange that the Opposition is still waiting for the BJP to announce its choice for the Presidential polls. The Opposition has time and again reiterated it would supporting an NDA nominee based on his or her secular credentials, which is ironic considering the BJP has no such compulsions with the kind of support it has.
The Opposition should, instead, have announced its candidate, to ensure it had enough time to build consensus around that name. But, sadly that hasn't happened, and the Opposition itself is yet to reach a consensus on who its joint presidential candidate should be.
Several names have been suggested by these parties, but none of them seem to find favour with the united opposition.
While Congress floated former Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar's name, it didn't find favour with other parties, forcing it to leave the decision to others. Former West Bengal Governor and Mahatma Gandhi's grandson Gopal Gandhi's name was proposed by Mamata Banerjee, but that too didn't find many takers amongst the parties in the Opposition.
Meanwhile, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar proposed second term for President Pranab Mukherjee, which was backed by Banerjee. But Mukherjee is said to have put a condition that he will only contest if backed by the NDA, which in all likelihood won't happen. Former JD(U) president Sharad Yadav is also being considered a front runner, but there has been no consensus on his name either.
Another name that could have taken the fight to the ruling combine was NCP chief Sharad Pawar, but he withdrew, citing the NDA's numerical advantage. A veteran politician, Pawar's popularity transcends the political divide. In fact, the Shiv Sena had backed his candidature, but rumours suggest that Pawar has been forced to back down in the wake of ongoing investigations against his party's top leadership.
Poor reflection of Opposition unity
Despite several lunches and meetings, the Opposition is yet to reach a consensus on any of these candidate. This reflects poorly on the so-called Opposition unity that's being attempted in a bid to stop the Modi juggernaut in 2019.
If these parties have taken so long to zero in on a candidate, one can only imagine how long would they take to have a seat sharing arrangement if they intend to present a united face against the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.