With the Election Commission notifying the Presidential election, and hours before the Opposition met to discuss its candidates, the ruling BJP Wednesday reached out to the Congress, CPM and other parties to begin a consultation exercise on the issue. Sources said that Union I&B Minister M Venkaiah Naidu sent word to Congress president Sonia Gandhi and contacted CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury to initiate consultations. Naidu also spoke to NCP’s Praful Patel and BSP’s Satish Chandra Mishra to finalise meetings with NCP chief Sharad Pawar and BSP leader Mayawati.
BJP sources indicated that the NDA candidate will file the nomination papers on June 23 and Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to be present — he will leave for the US on June 24. The Opposition is expected to announce its joint candidate after June 20, with the filing of nominations slated to take place around June 24-25. The nomination process will end on June 28. Also Read: When is Presidential election? Here is all you need to know
According to sources, the BJP’s outreach will be helmed by Naidu and Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh — both met Wednesday to chalk out a schedule for meeting Opposition leaders following a gathering of the BJP’s core group.
Naidu and Singh are expected to meet Congress president Gandhi and Yechury Friday.
Singh is expected to speak to West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. Sources said the BJP wanted Singh to make use of his “warm ties” with Banerjee, who is unhappy with the party over its political moves in West Bengal.
Naidu also spoke to PMK leader Anbumani Ramadoss and All India NR Congress leader N Rangaswamy. Party sources said Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, who is currently in South Korea, will hold talks with the socialist parties.
At the Opposition meeting, sources said, RJD chief Lalu Prasad and Yechury argued that they should field a candidate at any cost as it was an “ideological and political fight” against the BJP.
Sources said some leaders wanted to wait for consultations with the government, but Yechury pointed out that this was “not the understanding” at the previous Opposition meeting on the issue. Prasad told the meeting that there cannot be any “ideological compromise” with the BJP, said sources.
The sense in the Opposition camp is that the government is reaching out “for the sake of consultation” and as a “mere formality”. But BJP leaders, sources said, have assessed that if there is a contest, some of the parties “with the Opposition currently” could extend their support to the NDA’s candidate.
Sources said Opposition leaders have also sensed possible attempts by the BJP to divide them. “Let’s see what their plan is…it could also be a delaying tactic. Anyway, we are prepared,” said a senior Opposition leader.
Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha, Ghulam Nabi Azad, at whose Parliament chamber the 10-member Opposition sub-committee met Wednesday, said that since the ruling party has reached out, “it is impossible to select the final candidate now”.
”The nitty-gritty or the names were not discussed today. The sub-committee will meet again in the next few days. By then, the ruling party would have spoken to Opposition parties,” Azad said.
Asked about BJP ministers meeting Opposition leaders separately, Azad said that “all Opposition parties are totally united”.
”Naturally, the government is going to talk to Opposition leaders separately. They are not going to talk to them collectively… We are going to have a meeting again,” he said.
NCP’s Patel said, “Venkaiah Naidu spoke to me and said that they would like to meet Sharad Pawar in the next few days to discuss the way forward in the Presidential election. No name has been proposed. We will await for their communication,” Patel said.
Apart from Azad, Prasad, Yechury and Patel, the Opposition panel includes Congress’s Mallikarjun Kharge, JD(U)’s Sharad Yadav, TMC’s Derek O Brien, SP’s Ram Gopal Yadav, BSP’s Satish Chandra Mishra and DMK’s Alandur R S Bharthi.
The Opposition has already reached out to Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson Gopal Krishna Gandhi, with sources confirming that he has agreed to be its joint candidate. Former Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar is also being considered while JD(U)’s Yadav is said to be interested, too.