Planning for presidential election is no indication of a larger political alliance
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Planning for presidential election is no indication of a larger political alliance

Political pundits as well as many politicians have touted the upcoming presidential poll as the stepping stone of a UPA-like Opposition bloc against the formidable NDA. The unity among different Opposition parties in the presidential poll in July looks a distinct possibility but there is no guarantee that it will lead to a broader anti-NDA coalition. The Opposition parties will face several roadblocks before it can reach such an alliance.

opinion Updated: May 08, 2017 12:47 IST
Saubhadra Chatterji
Saubhadra Chatterji
Hindustan Times
President of India,President Election,Pranab Mukherjee
Political unity in Presidential polls is no guarantee card for an electoral alliance or even a post-poll pact. (Ravi Choudhary/HT PHOTO)

For some Opposition leaders and political observers, this year’s Presidential poll is the ladder to a UPA-like Opposition bloc in 2019.

This is nothing but high hopes. Political unity in the Presidential polls is no guarantee card for an electoral alliance or even a post-poll pact.

APJ Abdul Kalam was elected as President with support from all parties except the Left parties, which fielded Lakshmi Sahgal as its candidate. The fragile unity between Kalam supporters shattered soon and after two years, the left supported the Congress to keep the Atal Behari Vajpayee-led BJP—which proposed Kalam’s name—out of power.

Last month, JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav told reporters “A joint candidate will be the beginning of the coming together of Opposition parties against the BJP.” But when CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury went to seek support from Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik, he emphasised that he has come only in the context of the Presidential poll and not any political alliance.

“Any such formation can happen later. For now, we are only talking about the presidential polls,” Yechury told HT from Bhubaneswar on Thursday. The communist leader understands that linking poll pact with unity over Presidential candidate can also be counter-productive.

For, the post of the President is considered to be above politics. And it is this particular notion that paves ground for political rivals to keep aside their reservations and ideology to join hands. In the past, CPI(M) and its arch rivals have voted for the same Presidential candidate (Pranab Mukherjee), BJP’s biggest ally Shiv Sena has ignored the NDA’s candidate Bhairon Singh Shekhawat to support Congress leader Pratibha Patil in the 2007 election just because she belonged to Maharashtra, Sena’s home state. The vote for the top office has always seen such permutations and combination in political arithmetic which perhaps would not be possible in any other election.

The rules of the President poll are also framed in such a way that all voters, in this case MPs and MLAs, also have a chance to opt for a second preference. In other words, after they mark their first vote for their preferred candidate, they also keep the rival candidate as the second preference. And if no one can reach a majority in a multi corner contest, the second preference votes are counted. In other words, a candidate can win an election with the help of rival votes.

For an electoral alliance, more political calculations come into play. All political parties aim to expand its footprint, win more seats and secure a seat of power. The presidential election camaraderie has little scope there. Do we really hope that BSP and SP, Trinamool and Left will come together to fight the poll or be a part of the coalition?

In the process to form a large anti-BJP coalition, the parties also need to address the issue of the leadership. Who’ll be the Prime Minister of the coalition, if it comes to power? In the history of Indian politics, coalitions after coalitions have collapsed over the issue of leadership with all partners aspiring for a bigger role. The experiments of Janata parivar has time and again showed that the question of leadership and individual aspirations can switch off the oxygen supply when the coalition is in critical condition.

Let the Opposition parties think about the presidential poll, not alliances.

First Published: May 08, 2017 12:47 IST