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Presidential Choice

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With Presidential elections due on 18 July – if required – the opposition is attempting to forge some kind of unity to deny the NDA a cakewalk. The hope is that, with an agreement on a fitting candidate, some parties in the government camp could be made to reconsider support to the NDA. Unfortunately, there are already divisions in the opposition ranks, which do not augur well for anything like a real contest.

The initiative has been taken by TMC Supremo Mamata Banerjee, who called a meeting on Wednesday in Delhi of ‘like-minded’ parties to deliberate on the issue. Whatever the results, the fact that important parties like AAP, TRS, YSRCP, BJD and Shiromani Akali Dal chose not to attend indicates the turn matters may take. Also, the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) and BSP were not invited by Mamata Banerjee to the meeting.

Earlier, internal discussions within the Congress did not throw up a consensus on the party’s approach. The divisions between the G-23 and the ‘loyalists’ played spoiler in this matter; also, the ongoing grilling of Rahul Gandhi by the ED has shifted the focus on the more immediate crisis. What it did do was rule out the reasonably ‘strong’ candidature of ‘dissident’ Ghulam Nabi Azad. As such, the Congress cannot ‘lead’ the opposition.

The presence of parties that are rivals in their respective states at Banerjee’s meeting also could create issues on candidate selection. For instance, while the Communists are playing ball, it will be for just the extent that their purpose is served. There is little chance of their helping boost Mamata’s national leadership bid. NCP’s Sharad Pawar has already refused to be the consensus candidate. It is reported that Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson, Gopalkrishna Gandhi, a former Governor, is also being promoted as a possible contender. That would imply an acknowledgement that the contest will be largely symbolic.

In the meanwhile, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh is reported to have reached out to Mallikarjun Kharge, Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, to ensure a candidate that would be unopposed. The NDA has not yet displayed its cards but, going by Prime Minister Modi’s approach, its choice could come as a surprise for all, thereby outflanking the opposition. Of course, Vice President Venkaiah Naidu, who is also about to retire, would have been a natural choice but his path may be impeded by BJP’s future political strategy. After all, there are elections to be won.