Millennium Post

Presidential election: Naidu talks to Pawar, Andhra CM

Broadbasing government's outreach, senior minister M. Venkaiah Naidu on Thursday spoke to NCP chief Sharad Pawar, and ally TDP's chief and Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu as part of its exercise to evolve a consensus on presidential candidate.

Naidu's talks with Pawar and Chandrababu Naidu came a day before he and another senior minister Rajnath Singh would be meeting Congress President Sonia Gandhi on Friday at 11 am seeking her party's support even as opposition parties are said to be keen on a contest.

Sources said Pawar told Naidu that he would be in Delhi for the next couple of days for the talks, while Chandrababu Naidu told him that his party would stand by the Prime Minister's decision on the issue.

Naidu has so far contacted leaders of the Congress, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), Telugu Desam Party (TDP), Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) and the All India Congress (N. Rangasami).

Singh and Naidu -- who are part of the three-member team constituted by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) President Amit Shah for holding discussions with political parties on the presidential candidate -- are set to meet Gandhi at her residence on Friday morning, sources said.

This will be followed by a meeting with CPI-M General Secretary Sitaram Yechury later in the day. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, who is also part of the team, is away in South Korea. He is scheduled to return only on Saturday morning.

The BJP has given no indication so far as to who its candidate is, but there is speculation around the names of External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan. The name of BJP veteran Murli Manohar Joshi is also not ruled out in the BJP circles, since he is said to have the backing of Rashtriya Swyamsevak Sangh (RSS).

It remains to be seen whether the BJP team will put forward any name to Gandhi and other opposition leaders it would be meeting or talking to in the coming days, or whether the team will merely seek the support for a BJP nominee.

Sources in the opposition parties say they are waiting for the government side to come out with the name of its nominee before they can finalise their strategy. Opposition leaders say that the choice of BJP candidate, even according to insiders, is known "only to (Prime Minister) Modi and God", to stress the point that it is Modi who is calling the shots on the issue.

They feel that the government is only engaged in an exercise of consensus building for the sake of formality and, in fact, might not be keen on a consensus candidate.

They point to Naidu's statement a couple of days ago that the government has the mandate and the opposition should keep this in mind while talking about a presidential candidate.

At the meeting of opposition parties on Wednesday, there were suggestions mainly from the Left parties that they should put up a fight by fielding a candidate, because it is an "ideological battle" with the BJP. They feel the BJP might be keen on having someone with ideological moorings in the Rashtrapati Bhavan.

Should there be a fight, the Left parties are reportedly keen on fielding Gopalkrishna Gandhi, grandson of Mahatma Gandhi and former Governor of West Bengal. There is also another section in the opposition, saying that it should be a political fight and the nominee could be a political leader like Janata Dal-United (JD-U) veteran Sharad Yadav.

As part of BJP's outreach, Shah is likely to meet Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray in Mumbai for seeking the party's support for the NDA nominee. The Sena, which has been having a cold war with the BJP, has not voted with the NDA in the last two presidential elections.

The Sena has been pitching for RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat for the top constitutional post and has also sought to know from the BJP why he (Bhagwat) is not acceptable. Bhagwat on his part has ruled himself out, saying he is not in the race.

Meanwhile, disgruntled BJP leader Shatrughan Sinha on Thursday yet again backed party veteran L.K. Advani as the most deserving candidate for the post of President, saying he is physically fit and has the ability to "understand the complexity of the Constitution".

In a series of tweets, Sinha said: "What Advaniji has, is the ability to understand the complexity of the Constitution and to take the right decision when needed without getting influenced by anyone, in the larger interest of the nation."

Sinha also said that Advani, who is 89, is "physically fit" for the post and no one has come out against his candidature.

"No one is able to speak anything, be it from within or outside d voice coming out against Advani's candidature.

"Advaniji is much more healthy and energetic than any of the young leaders. He has kept himself maintained so that he can take responsibility of the country," Sinha said.

Sinha has been sidelined in the party after Narendra Modi became Prime Minister of the country. He was also not inducted into Modi's council of ministers, though he has claimed of long association with the BJP, since the time when the party had two members in the Lok Sabha.

His proximity to Advani is said to be one of the reasons for being sidelined in the party.

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