Amit Shah sets up panel to discuss presidential poll with BJP allies, other parties
The committee will identify nominees for the presidential election that will be held on July 17.Updated: Jun 12, 2017, 23:51 IST
BJP president Amit Shah authorised on Monday three senior ministers to negotiate with political parties a consensus candidate to succeed President Pranab Mukherjee, who demits office on July 24.
Home minister Rajnath Singh, defence minister Arun Jaitley and information and broadcasting minister M Venkaiah Naidu will seek to navigate not only testy ties with the opposition but also some of the government’s own allies to find a common candidate.
Should they fail presidential elections will be held on July 17. Nominations for candidates close on June 28.
The president is a largely ceremonial post, but in an increasingly polarised domestic political climate parties are seeking influence over an office that yields power when it comes to close elections or giving assent to controversial legislation.
For the opposition, the presidential elections are also an opportunity to rally a grand coalition of anti-BJP parties in the run up to the 2019 national elections.
There is no clarity on who Prime Minister Narendra Modi favours, although sources said his party’s ideological mentor, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), has sought to back either party veteran Murli Manohar Joshi or foreign minister Sushma Swaraj for the job.
The opposition Congress has already moved to rally support for an anti-BJP candidate. Earlier this month, 17 parties met to find a candidate who can ensure “secular supervision” from the country’s highest office. They could meet again.
The BJP is 100,000 votes short of a majority, meaning it will not only have to retain the support of its allies but also rope in fence-sitters such as the AIADMK of Tamil Nadu, Naveen Patnaik’s BJD from Odisha and Telangana’s ruling TRS to put its nominee in the Rashtrapati Bhawan.
The RSS’ reported support for Joshi might run into a legal wall. The 83-year-old is facing trial for his alleged role in the demolition of the Babri mosque in 1992 that triggered some of India’s worst Hindu-Muslim riots.
The candidature of Swaraj is also being backed by some RSS leaders, sources said.
“She is very popular; her proactive role in helping people has won her accolades. There is a section that feels that the BJP should opt for a woman as the President and she fits the bill,” one of the sources said.
Jharkhand governor and tribal leader Draupadi Murmu is another name doing the rounds, but an RSS source said she would be better suited for as vice president.
Analysts say the negotiations are likely to be tough as fence-sitters could try to use the opportunity to flex their muscle or extract sops. The Shiv Sena, the BJP’s largest ally, has already left the party uneasy by asking that RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat be made the President.
Bhagwat, though, has ruled out his candidature in the contest, which is decided by proportional representation vote by parliament members and state lawmakers.
Shiv Sena Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Raut said the BJP should try to persuade Bhagwat to change his mind.
“If he has not shown interest in the post, the BJP-appointed committee should first speak to him and convince him to change his mind. Then the panel can speak to other NDA allies,” Raut said.