With APJ Abdul Kalam deciding not to contest the Presidential poll, BJP on Monday appeared set to back PA Sangma's candidature and convince its dithering NDA allies like JD(U) and Shiv Sena to fall in line and give up plans of a consensus on Pranab Mukherjee.
BJP leaders, especially LK Advani and Sushma Swaraj, were keen on having Kalam as the Opposition candidate due to his stature and his wider acceptability among the political parties. However, he declared on Monday that he does not wish to contest as his "conscience" does not permit him to do so.
Advani was in constant touch with Kalam over the phone for the past few days. on Monday he had sent party leader and close associate Sudheendra Kulkarni twice to Kalam as his emissary. He also talked to Kalam on the phone but the latter did not agree.
Sources said Advani asked Kalam to delay his statement on the decision to opt out but the latter decided to come clean and end all speculation.
Jolted by this decision, BJP decided to convene a meeting of its Core Group to discuss the new development and decide the future course of action.
Asked what the party intends to do now as Kalam has refused to contest, BJP spokesperson Nirmala Sitharaman said, "Whatever decision we take we will convey to the media. BJP is not alone. The issue will be discussed in detail by the NDA and a decision taken in a democractic manner."
An NDA meeting will be held on Tuesday.
With Kalam opting out, sources said JD(U) is likely to become even more adamant about not having a contest. Sangma does not enjoy the stature that Kalam does, rendering a contest even more redundant, according to JD(U) sources.
Since JD(U) and Shiv Sena are against a contest for the presidential election, the BJP's foremost concern at the moment is to convince its allies that Mukherjee should not be elected unopposed.
JD(U) apparently wants to keep its options open in the next Lok Sabha elections, which may throw up a hung Parliament, and also feels that no purpose will be served if the NDA candidate is trounced by Mukherjee who is expected to have a smooth sailing.
BJP would find it difficult to back out now and not go for a contest. Swaraj had said during the last budget session of Parliament that BJP will put up a candidate against the Congress even if Mukherjee is in the fray. It has already held several rounds of discussions on whom to field.
Sources said BJP will try to persuade JD(U) to support Sangma. The former Lok Sabha Speaker's candidature is being supported by AIADMK and BJD. The NDA sees in them two more coalition partners and the Presidential poll can be a good starting point to bring them back.
BJP is hopeful Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee may support Sangma since her candidate Kalam is not contesting. However, a section within the party conceded that her party may decide to abstain during polling.
Shiv Sena is also not keen on supporting Sangma but party supremo Bal Thackeray will take a final call.
Interestingly, a section within the BJP apprehends that Sangma may also opt out of the race and this would be embarrassing for the party supporting him. NCP leaders, among others, are trying to persuade Sangma not to contest.