A consensus seems to be building among important United Front (UF) constituents on the elevation of Vice-President K R Narayanan as the next President. However, the Congress could play the spoiler as party president Sitaram Kesri seems to be determined to stop Narayanan.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) appears reconciled to supporting Narayanan if there is a consensus among other political parties. But it will use its leverage to try and get a Vice-President of its choice if it is in a position to bargain. Two of the three large groups in the electoral college, the BJP, the Congress and the United Front, need to agree on a candidate to get him elected.
The election of a new Vice-President is to follow about a month after that of the President in mid-July. Rajya Sabha opposition leader Sikander Bakht reportedly wants the BJP to field its own candidate, even if just for the sake of opposition. Bakht himself wants to be the BJPs candidate, a senior BJP leader said.
His candidature could be pushed if the United Front wants to resist the move, recently begun in the Kesri camp, to give President S D Sharma a second term. If the UF insists on elevating Narayanan, and the Congresss backs Sharma, the BJP could offer to back either in exchange for support to Bakhts candidature.
The BJP is not in a mood to support Rajya Sabha chairperson Najma Heptullah who has emerged as the front-runner for the Vice-Presidents post.
Ironically, Heptulla has the quiet support of most UF groups but Congress leaders such as Kesri are said to have reservations.
Some BJP leaders calculate that she will not get her own partys support. If Heptulla gets the Congress backing, the BJP would have no option but to back her. For the record, BJP vice-president KL Sharma has already said that BJP has no reservation on supporting Heptulla.
The BJP has not finalised any name. Most likely, it would support a strong candidate of another political parties against Heptulla rather than fielding its own candidate, an office-bearer said.
Most BJP office-bearers hold that the party should not field its candidates for both the posts, if the BJP is not included in the process of consensus building.
The party is likely to finalise its stand for these two elections at its central office bearers and election committee meeting at Bhopal on Thursday. Party president L K Advani who is scheduled to reach Bhopal enroute his Swarna Jayanti rath yatra, will preside over the meeting.
A BJP source said he felt that the Congress would not sponsor Sharma, particularly if Kesri remained at the helm of party affairs. The fear of alienating Dalits from the Congress would force the Congress to support Narayanan, he said.
He admitted that one section in BJP wanted the party to field its candidates for both posts even if they were defeated. However, this strategy would be counter productive, besides making the Presidential election controversial, he said.
When asked to comment on the likely outcome of the meeting, a party officebearer said senior leaders would exchange notes, discuss the issues and come to a conclusion onthe partys strategy for the presidential polls.
After all they must have got some feelers from other parties, the office bearer said.