The BJP will make a fight of the presidential poll despite decisions by the Shiv Sena and the JD(U) to support UPA nominee Pranab Mukherjee.
The party’s core group has decided that it should back former Lok Sabha speaker PA Sangma even if NDA constituents did not agree with LK Advani’s plan to contest Mukherjee’s candidature as a way to expand the NDA’s list of allies.
Senior BJP leaders said they were determined to stick to Sangma as a joint candidate of the AIADMK, the BJD, and the BJP though some favoured supporting Mukherjee. They, however, agreed it was too late to call off the contest. The BJP risked embarrassment either way. On the one hand, the CMs of Tamil Nadu and Odisha are on its side and two allies stand apart. On the other hand, Sangma can only manage about 30% of the vote even if the BJP supports him while Mukherjee is likely to get 54%.
What upset Advani and other BJP leaders was reports that at least three BJP chief ministers and many party MPs and state leaders had called up Mukherjee to congratulate him.
BJP MP Maneka Gandhi spoke to party chief Nitin Gadkari to explain her remarks in support of Mukherjee. But another party MP Hukumdev Narayan Yadav was stated to have come out in support of him. Even former Karnataka chief minister BS Yeddyurappa had backed Mukherjee.
Within the core group, barring Advani, Sushma Swaraj and Ananth Kumar, other BJP leaders including Rajnath Singh were not enthusiastic about putting up a nominee against Mukherjee. Later, Arun Jaitley and Nitin Gadkari decided to go along with Advani’s argument that a contest would show that the BJP was in serious reckoning ahead of the 2014 elections by making new political alignments, BJP sources said.
Punjab CM Parkash Singh Badal, who does favour a contest, however, said his party will go by the decision of the NDA, which might meet on Wednesday. Meanwhile, in support of Mukherjee, Sena chief Bal Thackeray said, “The farce that is on for the top post of President is not justifiable…The country’s prestige is at stake for political gains… Those who have no merit are also in the race.”
NDA convenor Sharad Yadav was among those who spoke to Mukherjee on Tuesday. Earlier, Bihar CM Nitish Kumar had made it clear he favoured a consensus and not a contest. CPI(M)’s Basudev Achariya also spoke to Mukherjee, indicating Left support for him was likely in the days to come.