BJP panel meets Oppn, Advani; but takes no names
A BJP panel on Friday met top leaders of the Congress and the Left and consulted party veteran L K Advani on the upcoming presidential election, but its reluctance to name candidates prompted the opposition to question the exercise aimed at evolving a broad consensus on the issue.
Union ministers Rajnath Singh and M Venkaiah Naidu, two members of the panel formed by BJP chief Amit Shah, met Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury and BJP veterans Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi.
A source said the two ministers informed Advani the panel had started talks with other leaders as directed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Shah but did not refer to any likely candidates.
Criticising the BJP for not naming possible candidates, Yechury called the talks "more of a PR exercise" and reiterated the person occupying the president's post had to be an individual with "impeccable" secular credentials.
The BJP leaders did not propose a name but instead asked Congress leaders about their choices, party leader Ghulam Nabi Azad said after the ministers met Gandhi and other party leaders.
Sources said Singh and Naidu — the panel's third member, Arun Jaitley, is abroad — told the opposition leaders that the party would like to finalise the name of the candidate for the post before Modi left on a foreign tour on June 24.
The BJP may finalise its nominee two or three days before the PM's departure.
The BJP ministers first met Gandhi at her 10 Janpath residence in the morning. Azad and Mallikarjun Kharge were also present during the 30-minute meeting.
This was the first meeting between the government and the opposition under the BJP's outreach to stitch a consensus on the official nominee for the post.
Naidu also had a conversation on this with NCP Chief Sharad Pawar over the phone and met AIADMK leader Thambidurai.
The minister met SP veteran Mulayam Singh Yadav and the BSP's Satish Misra, who put him through to his leader, Mayawati, on the phone.
In an interesting development, President Pranab Mukherjee invited Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat for lunch on Friday at the Rashtrapati Bhavan, the saffron outfit said.
The timing of the meeting, which comes just ahead of the presidential election, has triggered speculation in some political quarters.