With former President APJ Abdul Kalam declaring on Monday that he had decided not to contest a second term in the country’s highest constitutional office, the BJP core group went into a huddle to work out a fresh strategy.
APJ Abdul Kalam smiles before his meeting with Bhutan's King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck in New Delhi. Reuters/B Mathur
Kalam told mediapersons, “Though I have never aspired to serve another term…, Mamata Banerjee and other political parties wanted me to be the candidate. Many, many citizens have also expressed the same wish. It only reflects their love and affection for me...I have considered the totality of this matter and the present political situation, and decided not to contest the presidential election, 2012.”
With this categorical refusal, the BJP is now likely to meet its NDA partners to discuss the next course of action later this week. The BJP has one obvious option — backing former Lok Sabha speaker and NCP leader PA Sangma — for a contest but it will first take a call and then try to convince its NDA allies.
The difficulty for the BJP is two-fold. One, the Shiv Sena seems disinclined to support Sangma, whose chances its rates against Congress candidate Pranab Mukherjee as low. Second, the Janata Dal (United) is still not keen on a contest.
While underlining that the NDA would take a decision on the presidential election, Bihar chief minister and JD(U) leader Nitish Kumar said in Patna, "We are in favour of a consensus but how will there be a consensus unless the NDA itself comes up with one? Talks are going on."
A senior JD(U) leader told HT there was no point in rushing into a contest unless there was a winnable candidate. The party is also keeping its options open with an eye on the next Lok Sabha elections.
Meanwhile, BJP leader Maneka Gandhi created a flutter when she met Mukherjee and told reporters later that he was "an excellent candidate" and that there should be a consensus for him. However, a source close to Maneka said her statement should be seen in terms of the fact that she has known Mukherjee for 30 years, and shouldn't be read as going against the party line.
While senior BJP leaders LK Advani and Sushma Swaraj see a contest as an opportunity to do business with non-NDA regional players like AIADMK's Jayalalithaa and BJD's Naveen Patnaik with an eye on the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, there are some in the BJP who aren't too enthusiastic about a contest.