As the BJP began reaching out to the Opposition ostensibly to build a consensus on the Presidential elections, at least one party Friday bluntly told the two top ministers when they came to meet them that the ruling alliance should not field a “hardcore” (read RSS) person for the office. Bringing no names or proposals to the table, ministers Rajnath Singh and M Venkaiah Naidu met with and called a host of leaders starting from Congress president Sonia Gandhi to CPM General Secretary Sitaram Yechury, SP’s Mulayam Singh Yadav to BSP chief Mayawati, leaving all of them guessing.
“We told them that we don’t want anybody from your hardcore. Anybody with secular democratic credentials we will agree. We told them that you have the numbers, you may win the elections but the country is divided…this is an election for unification, so try to unify the country by bringing a candidate who is acceptable to all,” CPI General Secretary S Sudhakar Reddy told The Indian Express. Also Read: Presidential election: BJP has nomination papers ready, name column blank
CPI leader D Raja, who was present at Ajoy Bhawan during the meeting, said his party told the ministers that the candidate should be “secular and liberal.” Yechury and party colleagues Prakash Karat and Brinda Karat, too, told the ministers at AKG Bhawan that “in the present context, a person who occupies the office of the President of India must be a person of impeccable secular credentials and must be a person who can safeguard and uphold the Constitutional values of the Indian republic.”
Reddy said they enquired about the Shiv Sena’s proposal to make RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat the President. “They said RSS leaders do not contest elections,” Reddy said. While keeping their cards close to their chest, the only signal the ministers gave was that the ruling party would decide its nominee by the middle of next week and it would come back to the Opposition once again seeking their support. The Opposition — which itself does not have a unanimous view on the three names that it is considering — decried the ruling party’s consultations as just going through the motions. Also Read: Presidential poll: Man who lost 150 elections, couple among 13 who filed nomination
While the Congress is said to be keen on former Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar, the Left, Trinamool Congress and Nitish Kumar are said to be backing Gopal Krishna Gandhi. Adding an element of discomfort is JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav’s “personal bid” to become the common Opposition candidate. Yechury met Gandhi on Thursday in an attempt to iron out differences. Sources said Gandhi told Yechury that the Opposition should put up an united front.
During the day, Naidu met AIADMK leader M Thambidurai. Singh spoke to Mayawati over phone. “We expected the BJP leaders to come with names — one or more than one — so that the Congress and other Opposition parties could think and discuss those names. But nothing like that happened. BJP leaders did not give any names….balki ulta hami se naam poochne ki koshish ki (instead they tried to ask us about our names),” Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad said. Azad and Mallikarjun Kharge met the ministers along with Gandhi at her 10, Janpath residence.
Rajnath and Naidu told the leaders the BJP has not decided on its nominee but enquired whether the Opposition parties have any names in mind. Mincing no words, Yechury told the ministers that barring the election of Neelam Sanjiv Reddy in the aftermath of the Emergency in 1977, there has always been a contest for the post of President.
“So this is a political contest. Last time against Pranab Mukherjee, BJP fielded P A Sangma. Against Pratibha Patil, the BJP fielded Bhairon Singh Shekhawat. So they have been fielding (candidates) as a political contest,” he told reporters. All the opposition leaders said the question of cooperation and support will only arise when the ruling party reveals a name.
“They are seeking cooperation. And what I can guess…just they are seeking cooperation because they have already got something in their mind. That is why they have not given any names,” Kharge said. He said had the Government revealed its names, the Congress, too, could have proposed some.