BJP, opposition hold parleys on Presidential election
The ruling and the opposition parties on Wednesday got going on the presidential election with the three-member BJP committee poised to meet Congress President Sonia Gandhi on Friday in a bid to evolve a consensus on the nominee.
On the other side, opposition leaders held preliminary discussions on the issue but decided to meet again for detailed parleys after government makes public its choice of candidate.
The BJP core committee met on Wednesday morning in the presence of party President Amit Shah, where senior ministers Rajnath Singh and M. Venkaiah Naidu, who form part of the three-member group were also present. Later, Singh and Naidu met Prime Minister Narendra Modi and discussed the strategy.
Later it was disclosed that the three-member team, which includes Arun Jaitley, will meet Sonia Gandhi probably with the name the ruling side would like to field as part of efforts to build a consensus. It was not clear whether Jaitley, who is currently in South Korea, will be back in the capital in time for the meeting.
The team will later meet CPI-M General Secretary Sitaram Yechury. Naidu spoke to BSP leader Satish Chandra Mishra and NCP leader Praful Patel over phone. He was told that the two parties will firm up their stand only after the BJP panel meets them formally.
Among the names doing the rounds as possible NDA candidate are Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Uttar Pradesh Governor Ram Naik. There is talk in the BJP circles that the RSS could pitch for another veteran Murli Manohar Joshi. A surprise could be in the form of Jharkhand Governor Draupadi Murmu, a tribal from Odisha.
With an edge in the electoral college, the BJP is said to be of the opinion that it should have its own candidate who has an ideological background since it is the party in power. Naidu indicated as much on Tuesday when he said that opposition should keep in mind the spirit of democracy that the BJP has the mandate of the people.
Meanwhile, BJP's oldest ally Shiv Sena on Wednesday yet again made it clear that its "first choice" for NDA's presidential candidate is RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat.
Sena MP Sanjay Raut said: "Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat is the most deserving person to be the President of India. Will they (BJP) speak to us regarding this? If you think he is not the deserving candidate, tell us why he is not the suitable candidate.
"You give us another name, but for us Mohan Bhagwat saheb is the first choice for NDA's presidential candidate."
The Sena has been demanding that RSS chief should be nominated as the NDA's presidentail candidate, even though Bhagwat has said that he is not in the race.
The Sena has not voted with the BJP in the last two presidential elections. A candidate from Maharashtra like Naik or Bhagwat or even Mahajan, a Marathi who represents Indore in Madhya Pradesh, could ensure its support to the NDA candidate. Likewise, the candidature of Murmu could bring Odisha's ruling BJD to the government side in the presidential election though the two parties are bitter rivals in the state.
Leaders of nine opposition parties, who form a sub-group, met in parliament house in the chamber of the Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad, who told reporters later that no names were discussed in their meeting.
"It was a preliminary meeting. No nitty gritty nor names were discussed. All parties are totally united," he said.
Azad said even as the opposition leaders were meeting, it has been disclosed that the three-member team constituted by BJP to hold discussion with opposition parties for a consensus will meet opposition leaders including Gandhi.
"No finalisation of name is possible," he said adding the sub group of the opposition parties will meet in the next few days and discuss in detail by when the government would have also discussed with the opposition parties its choice.
Azad said the future discussion among the opposition parties will depend on the candidate the ruling side choose and the party he belongs to.
"Then only we can have substantial discussions," he said.
Rashtriya Janata Dal Chief Lalu Prasad told the media that they would "remove" BJP.
Among those who attended the meeting in Azad's chamber were Yechury, Sharad Yadav, (JD-U), Patel, Ram Gopal Yadav (SP), Mishra, Mallikarjun Kharge (Congress), Derek O'Brien (Trinamool Congress), and R.S. Bharti (DMK).