The forthcoming Presidential election in India could very well taste the commitment of opposition parties in India in forming a democratic and secular anti-BJP front. Most of the major parties like Congress, Janata Dal, Rashtriya Janata Dal, CPI, USCPI(M), Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj party have publicly spoken about coming on a single platform to challenge the resurgent BJP.
After a series of behind the door conversations, Ms Sonia Gandhi the Congress President has taken a lead to build a consensus on finding a common Presidential candidate. Sonia recently met Bihar Chief Minister Mr Nitish Kumar and also the CMI (M) head Sitaram Yechury after returning from her routine health check up from the US. She also had a detailed discussion with CPI’s D Raja and NCP head Sharad Pawar.
There is general agreement across the opposition parties that the Presidential candidate must have outstanding secular credentials. D Raja of CPI said that during their internal meetings they have decided to join hands and will have structured talks in the coming days.A final push for the joint candidate will be given only when National Democratic Alliance announces its candidate.
The groundwork for the proposed alliance began in February 2017 when Nitish Kumar met Yechury, Pawar and Om Prakash Chautala of National Lok Dal and discussed the idea of putting up a common Presidential candidate. But despite Nitish Kumar’s effort, the opposition leaders were not very keen to go ahead as they wanted Congress to take a leading role since they are the largest opposition party in the Parliament.
Janata Dal’s senior leader Sharad Yadav and the former Prime Minister H Deve Gowda’s names are being considered for the coveted post as candidature of either of these leaders will send a very strong political message since BJP is also looking for a candidate from the backward class and preferably from Southern India.
Leaders from opposition parties are well aware that BJP with its recent landslide victory in the UP assembly elections will have no problem getting their Presidential candidate elected. If we talk about the numbers the ruling BJP alliance is short by 25000 votes but BJP can easily bridge that gap with the help of friendly regional parties like AIADMK, Telangana Rashtriya Samiti, Biju Janata Dal and other smaller parties.BJP is also working behind the scene to get the two warring factions of AIADMK united which will further add to its tally.
The spokesperson for the JD(U) K C Tyagi remarked that they know that the numbers are not in their favour but then they will like to make it a united fight which will act as a precursor to the 2019 Parliamentary elections. Tyagi also recalled that when Congress was the dominant party the opposition had come together on several occasions to fight against their official candidate as the idea was to give a symbolic fight and not necessarily to win the election.
The opposition leaders had this feeling that they made a good beginning in the recently concluded budget session of Parliament when they all united to submit a petition to the President Pranav Mukherjee about the tampering issue of EVMs and a host of other issues. Mayawati of Bahujan Samaj Party took the initiative on this occasion and most of the opposition parties rallied around her though some of the leaders were not very gung-ho about the tampering of EVMs.
The opposition parties do not want their unity to be confined to Parliament only as they intend to bolster their ties for the future elections. However, their joint efforts could still be thwarted if BJP picks up a candidate which will be difficult to be opposed as it happened in 2002 when Atal Behari Vajpayee, the former Prime Minister proposed the name of leading scientist and eminently popular APJ Abdul Kalam for the post of President.
Congress had no choice but to support the candidature of Kalam because of their political compulsions. From BJP’s perspective, Vajpayee was forced to select a candidate which could be readily acceptable to the opposition since they didn’t have the requisite numbers and they wanted the opposition to be on board.
Prime Minister Modi does not have such compulsion this time around but then he just may pull a rabbit out of that to unsettle the opposition and deny them an opportunity to come together. Modi means business as suddenly after the stupendous performance in the assembly polls, the corruption cases involving the opposition leaders have picked up the pace. Alternatively, Modi can make the task of opposition leaders much easier if he chooses a hardliner as his Presidential candidate.
DISCLAIMER: Views expressed above are the author’s own.