Cracks began to appear within the BJP-led NDA and the leading opposition party itself on whether to support or oppose Pranab Mukherjee, barely a day after the ruling UPA chose him as its candidate for the presidential poll.
A group of BJP leaders — LK Advani, Sushma Swaraj, Nitin Gadkari and Ananth Kumar — met ahead of the NDA’s meeting on Sunday. But they could not reach any conclusion in the absence of clear numbers to work for them.
The BJP leaders seeking a contest were also opposed by a section within the NDA — particularly the JD(U) and Akali Dal. They said it could be embarrassing for the opposition alliance.
Sources said Advani told Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Friday evening – when the latter called to seek support for Mukherjee – that the request had come “a little late”. The PM responded by saying that it was never late to make amends.
On Saturday evening, Singh reportedly spoke to TDP leader Chandrababu Naidu for getting support for Mukherjee. But Naidu has also been approached by AIADMK leader J Jayalalithaa and BJD leader Naveen Patnaik.
Leaders close to Advani insist on opposing Mukherjee even if it means supporting former Lok Sabha speaker PA Sangma.
For, APJ Abdul Kalam, whose name was propped up by Mamata Banerjee, has not agreed so far to contest.
But Sangma’s will to contest began to show signs of strain. His party boss, NCP president Sharad Pawar said, "I am confident that he would withdraw his candidature and listen to the request from the party.”
Within the BJP, Gadkari and other BJP leaders did not appear enthusiastic about a fight, as they did not see any candidate of Mukherjee’s stature. Also, the RSS, the parent wing of the BJP, is not against Mukherjee. Sources said it considered Mukherjee to be neither a Gandhi family loyalist nor its first choice.
Some BJP leaders talked of the possibility of striking a hard bargain with the UPA on the post of the Vice-President, election for which is scheduled for August.
But others dismissed such a prospect as “wishful thinking” as the electoral colleges for choosing the President and the Vice-President were different.
For choosing the VP, the UPA has enough numbers as the electoral college consists of only Parliament members. There is talk that Hamid Ansari could get a second term as VP.
Meanwhile, BJP member Ram Jethmalani added to the drama by saying he would contest against Mukherjee because he failed to act against black money. He did not seem to have any takers.