On Tuesday, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chief Amit Shah has put a three-member panel to reach out to other parties, including the Opposition, to build consensus for the presidential poll. The result of the panel members having worked the phone to talk to non-National Democratic Alliance (NDA) parties for the past 24 hours was evident at today's strategy meet of the Opposition.
If Shah's objective was to sow seeds of confusion among Opposition ranks, it seemed to have the hit bullseye, at least for the present. The meeting of Opposition leaders was marred by sundry parties issuing caveats on how they would support the BJP-led NDA's nominee if the ruling coalition were to field a particular candidate.
The panel, meanwhile, is scheduled to meet Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Communist Party of India (Marxist) chief Sitaram Yechury on Friday. Panel member and union minister M Venkaiah Naidu has spoken with PMK's Anbumani Ramadoss, N Rangasamy of All India NR Congress, Satish Chandra Mishra of Bahujan Samaj Party and Praful Patel of Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). Naidu was in Andhra Pradesh on Wednesday to meet state chief minister and ally Telugu Desam Party chief N Chandrababu Naidu.
According to sources present at the Opposition meeting, Trinamool Congress said it would support the NDA candidate if BJP were to field External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj. The NCP said it cannot but support the BJP candidate if it were to be somebody from Maharashtra. The name of Uttar Pradesh Governor Ram Naik has been doing the rounds.
The Congress advised that the Opposition should wait for the BJP to announce its candidate, while CPI (M) argued for the Opposition to announce its common candidate as soon as possible. The Left is keen that Mahatma Gandhi's son Gopalkrishna Gandhi should be the joint candidate of the Opposition to make it a "Gandhi versus Godse" battle.
While no Biju Janata Dal representative was present at the meeting, the Naveen Patnaik-led party has already conveyed that it would support the BJP candidate if it fields Jharkhand Governor Draupadi Murmu. Similarly, the BSP might find it difficult to vote against a Dalit if BJP were to field Kerala Governor P Sathasivam, and old socialists like Janata Dal (United) and Samajwadi Party are unlikely to vote against former associate Swaraj.
All the Opposition parties, including the CPI(M), eventually agreed that they would wait for the ruling alliance to announce its nominee. The Opposition parties, however, could come together if BJP were to field somebody with strong Hindutva leanings. The BJP is confident of winning the polls as NDA has 48.6 per cent of the votes. In addition, YSR Congress, Telangana Rashtra Samiti and dominant of the AIADMK factions have announced their support to whoever might be the NDA candidate.
Today was also the first day of filing nominations for the presidential poll scheduled for July 17, while the counting of votes is on July 20. Six, including a couple from Mumbai, filed their nomination papers today.
The papers of the six, however, would be rejected in all likelihood since none had the requisite signatures of 50 proposers and as many seconders from the list of electors. The presidential electoral college comprises all elected members of both the Houses of Parliament and legislative assemblies.
K Padmarajan from Tamil Nadu, Anand Singh Kushwaha from Madhya Pradesh, A Bala Raj from Telangana, Saira Bano Mohammed Patel and Mohammed Patel Abdul Hamid from Mumbai and dhoti- clad Kondekar Vijayprakash from Pune filed their papers.
The Patels told the returning officer that it would be "good" if one of them became the country's President, and the other, the Vice President, sources present there said.
On his nomination papers, filed in two sets, Vijayprakash, who, an eyewitness said, looked like a 'sadhu', wrote: "I know my nomination paper will be rejected. A layman like me cannot obtain 100 signatures. I am crazy but one should be crazy. Sir, our institutions like Parliament (are) locked and the prison of political parties."
According to BJP sources, panel member Naidu has been entrusted with reaching out to regional parties of the south, while other two members - Arun Jaitley and Rajnath Singh - will establish contact with parties in the north and eastern India. Finance Minister Jaitley, who is currently in South Korea, has been tasked with holding talks with Janata Dal (United) and some of the other regional parties. He shares a good rapport with Bihar CM Nitish Kumar.
Union ministers Rajnath Singh and Naidu today briefed Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The two, along with Shah and Jaitley, had met on Tuesday at Naidu's residence. Naidu had a meeting with Singh today morning.
But there was dissent within the BJP-led NDA, too. Swabhimani Shetkari Sangathana chief and Lok Sabha member Raju Shetti today met Janata Dal (U)'s Sharad Yadav to discuss farmer protests. He said his party would support the BJP candidate if the person was from a farming background. He criticised Modi government's "pro-corporate" and "anti-farmer" policies.
Among those who attended the opposition sub group meeting were Congress' Ghulam Nabi Azad, Congress leader in Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge, RJD chief Lalu Prasad, Ram Gopal Yadav of SP, Sitaram Yechury of CPI-M, Derek O Brien of Trinamool, Praful Patel of NCP, Sharad Yadav of JD-U and Satish Chandra Misra of BSP. On May 26, 16 Opposition parties had attended a lunch hosted by Sonia Gandhi over the presidential polls and decided to carry forward their unity till the 2019 national elections to counter the BJP.