Modi gearing up for 2019 polls
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is gearing up for the 2019 general elections by zeroing in on the self-made and low-key Dalit lawyer and politician Ram Nath Kovind. He hails from Uttar Pradesh and is currently the Governor of Bihar. The gambit is to assuage the feelings of the 21 per cent Dalits in the country, that, the BJP is not against them despite recent acts of atrocity perpetrated against them in the BJP ruled states of Rajasthan, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh. This has once again caught a down and out opposition on the wrong foot.
They will meet tomorrow (Thursday) to decide on putting up a symbolic fight against Kovind, as his triumph in the Electoral College appears to be certain. The other option for them is to back the NDA nominee and bargain for the post of Vice-President. Customarily, the highest constitutional office remains the preserve of the ruling party, and the opposition has to stay content with the second best. This is the first time that the ruling BJP enjoying a majority on its own in the Lok Sabha is pitching for a Head of State from its ranks. It is not that the BJP led NDA has not had a President ensconced in the Rashtrapati Bhawan.
The last time it happened was when Atal Behari Vajpayee was the Prime Minister, and he zeroed in on the country's missile man A P J Abdul Kalam. This time around a high power three-member team of BJP leaders comprising Rajnath Singh, Arun Jaitley and Venkaiah Naidu held discussions with the opposition without throwing up any names which its top strategists were actively considering. Several opposition leaders felt the exercise of holding consultations with them without any names was nothing short of a sham. BSP supremo Mayawati affirmed, she will back a Dalit nominee for the highest Constitutional office.
However, if the opposition decides to field a Dalit candidate like former Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar, then Mayawati will back her. The BJP leaders remained firm- it is the prerogative of the ruling dispensation at the Centre to decide its nominee as evidenced in the past. In this instance, they conveyed to Modi, the strongman of the lotus party, the views of the opposition and left it for him to decide who will be the fourteenth President of the country. Though the Congress and some others in the opposition had mulled over the prospects of a second term for incumbent President Pranab Mukherjee, it was quietly dropped to avoid any embarrassment to the veteran Congress leader. As the country's 13th Head of State, Mukherjee, described himself as a "Copybook President" discharging his responsibility of "preserving and protecting" the Constitution.
Several of their Parliamentary Board members had no clue about the nominee. BJP party president Amit Shah visited Mumbai and met troublesome ally and Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray to soothe ruffled feathers. This is to keep the blow hot, blow cold Shiv Sena in good humour as it has 21 MPs and 163 MLAs. Earlier, its second rung leaders sought to put pressure on the BJP by throwing up names of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat and renowned Agriculture scientist and economist M S Swaminathan as possible Presidential nominees. The embarrassment apart, it compelled Bhagwat to emphasise, he was not in the Presidential race. CPI (M) leader Sitaram Yechury underlined the need for the non-BJP alliance to announce its Presidential nominee by Thursday, June 22. The opposition had approached Mahatma Gandhi's grandson, Gopal Krishna Gandhi who had acknowledged having preliminary discussions and nothing more.
The opposition unity is seen as a stepping stone to taking on the BJP in the next general elections barely two years later. A month back there was speculation about Jharkhand Governor Draupadi Murmu being considered as a possible Presidential nominee. She is a tribal woman from backward Odisha. Other compulsions weighed heavily on Modi. They required a person who would be acceptable to the people of this country. Kovind is a dignified person having served two terms in the Rajya Sabha and has practised both in the High Court and the Supreme Court. Having been an RSS pracharak, Kovind, has the blessings of the BJP's ideologue. The President should be one enjoying the widest possible acceptability.
The BJP wants a President who shares its political outlook and philosophy. In the last two elections, the Congress succeeded in getting its party leaders elected President. One may recall that the main opposition of the day did not oppose KR Narayanan and APJ Abdul Kalam in 1997 and 2002 respectively. Even though the BJP might be short of numbers in the Electoral College, several regional parties of the South and the ruling BJD in Odisha have already assured support to the NDA nominee. With the various factions of the AIADMK also expected to back the BJP candidate, installing Kovind in Rashtrapati Bhawan next month is not in doubt barring the imponderables. President Mukherjee's term ends on July 25.
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