The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Thursday continued with its outreach to the Opposition for the upcoming presidential polls but didn't disclose the name of the BJP-led National
Democratic Alliance (NDA) candidate for the top post.
This led some in the Opposition to term it a mere public relations exercise. After Thursday's meetings, several opposition leaders veered to the view that the BJP
leadership was preparing for a contest. The BJP-led NDA has 48.6 per cent of electoral college votes, along with the support of some regional parties, which would ensure a comfortable victory. The assessment among some Opposition leaders is that BJP
would portray it as its victory against a united Opposition. But most in the Opposition still want to wait for the BJP
to announce its candidate.
In separate meetings on Thursday, Union ministers Rajnath Singh
and M Venkaiah Naidu
called on Congress president Sonia Gandhi, Communist Party of India (Marxist) chief Sitaram Yechury
and Communist Party of India (CPI) leadership of S Sudhakar Reddy and D Raja. At the meeting with Sonia Gandhi, senior party leaders Ghulam Nabi Azad and Mallikarjun Kharge were also present.
Official sources said that it was explained to Congress leaders "that the prime minister and BJP
president desired such consultations before the candidate is finalised". According to sources, "the government and BJP
are of the view that approaching different parties with one or a panel of names for approval without knowing their views and suggestions in the matter may not be appropriate."
The NDA is likely to hold a meeting on the issue on June 19, which Prime Minister Narendra Modi is set to attend. BJP
chief Amit Shah is slated to meet Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray in Mumbai over the weekend. Opposition leaders are likely to consult with each other informally over the weekend.
The NDA is keen that its candidate files its nomination by June 23, as the prime minister leaves for a three-nation tour to Portugal, the United States and the Netherlands on June 24. The last date for filing of nominations is June 28.
All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader and Deputy Speaker of Lok Sabha M Thambi Durai called on the two union ministers. Naidu had "detailed discussion" over the phone with Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar.
According to official sources, Naidu also met Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav, Bahujan Samaj Party's Satish Chandra Mishra and spoke to BSP chief Mayawati over the phone today. Naidu and Singh visited the residence of senior BJP
leader Murli Manohar Joshi, who until recently was being talked of as the possible candidate of the BJP-led National
The latest name to join the long list of people who are being speculated about as the possible NDA candidate was that of well-known computer scientist and Nalanda University Vice Chancellor Vijay Bhatkar. The 70-year-old has been the president of RSS affiliated Vijnana Bharati, that promotes swadeshi, or indigenous, science, and was formerly chair of IIT Delhi's board of governors.
Interestingly, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat on Thursday had lunch with President Pranab Mukherjee at the Rashtrapati Bhavan. Shiv Sena, a BJP
ally, has been insisting on NDA fielding Bhagwat for the July 17 poll. Bhagwat has already ruled himself out. The RSS clarified it was a pre-scheduled courtesy call.
According to sources, one of the probable candidates of the Opposition, former West Bengal governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi, Mahatma Gandhi and C Rajagopalachari's grandson, has started to reach out to some of the Opposition leaders. Sources said Gopalkrishna Gandhi recently called up Aam Aadmi Party chief Arvind Kejriwal, who said it would be an "honour" for his party to support Gandhi. Some in the Opposition want to project the upcoming presidential polls into a "Gandhi versus Godse" battle.
Congress sources said they were surprised that two senior cabinet members - Home Minister Singh and Information and Broadcasting Minister Naidu - met their party chief for half an hour but did not mention the name of the NDA candidate. Instead, they asked Congress leaders about their nominee.
Sonia, along with party veterans Ghulam Nabi Azad and Mallikarjuna Kharge, discussed the issue with the two union ministers at her 10 Janpath residence. The two ministers drove to CPI (M) headquarters at AKG Bhavan, where they had discussions with party chief Yechury, former chief Prakash Karat and politburo member Brinda Karat.
Congress as well as CPI (M) sources said there was no point talking with the BJP
over the issue till the ruling party came up with a candidate around whom a consensus could be evolved.
Yechury told the ministers that his party and others in the Opposition want a President who can protect constitutional values of secularism. The CPI (M) chief disputed that the NDA had the mandate, pointing out that the BJP
had received only 31 per cent of the total votes cast in 2014 Lok Sabha elections.