Even as the ministerial panel had its first round of discussions with Opposition parties over the Presidential candidate, the ruling BJP has prepared four sets of nomination papers, leaving the space for the name of the candidate blank. “The four sets have the signatures of MPs and MLAs. But the line for the name is left blank,” said a party source. The candidate’s nomination form is to be signed by at least 50 electors as proposers and 50 as seconders for each set.
Sources said Union Ministers Ananth Kumar, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi and BJP general secretary Bhupendra Yadav were involved in the preparations. While the committee, appointed by BJP chief Amit Shah, began its meetings with Opposition leaders on Friday, BJP leaders said the NDA is “absolutely confident” of the win of its candidates in both the Presidential and Vice Presidential elections.
“We have almost 3 lakh votes more than the required number in the presidential electoral college,” said a senior leader referring to the additional support the BJP has managed to get from parties outside the NDA. However, there was no word on the candidates. In the consultation process, which the party has initiated to create a perception that the BJP wants to evolve a consensus, Rajnath Singh and M Venkaiah Naidu did not carry any name or a set of names. Sources said that on being asked by leaders of various parties, the Ministers said that the Government and BJP would like to finalise the candidate for President before the Prime Minister Narendra Modi leaves for his overseas tour on June 24.
Both Rajnath Singh and Naidu also met BJP veterans L K Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi on Friday. The BJP president, in his separate meetings with party seniors Rajnath, Venkaiah, Nitin Gadkari, did not reveal any names but sought their views instead. “The BJP president wanted to know if there are any names the leaders wanted to suggest,” said a source. “But how can a leader on his own suggest a name when they are not aware about the mind of either the Prime Minister or the BJP president,” added the source underlining the dilemma top BJP leaders face.
So, while a section sought to suggest that Venkaiah Naidu’s inclusion in the panel of three meant his exclusion from the list, that logic, indirectly, would mean External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj could be in contention. But both of them could be rejected on the ground that the PM needs them in his Council of Ministers.
Given the public projection of the highest office, BJP leaders are still not sure what political signal Modi and Shah wan to send through their choice. There are various signals – social criteria (Dalit or Tribal), geographical considerations (south India or north-east India), ideological (RSS background or non-partisan background) among others — that party leaders are speculating about.
While the names of Union Minister Thawarchand Gehlot (a Dalit), Jharkhand Governor Draupadi Murmu or Karia Munda (tribal leaders) have been speculated for long on the basis of social considerations, there has been conjecture regarding getting someone from south India as the BJP tries to widen its footprint. Naidu’s name was propped up with this argument, but there was also speculation on former CJI and Kerala Governor P Sathasivam who hails from Tamil Nadu. Sathasivam is among the few non-cadre people chosen by Modi-Shah duo for a Raj Bhawan.
A section of the BJP leaders, however, insist that the candidate should be a political person. As for ideological considerations, there is speculation within the BJP that the party high command may opt for someone from within as this is the first opportunity for the saffron parivar to get its own to the highest office. Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan is one name being mentioned in this context.
With no pressure from the RSS, Modi could pick an outsider “sympathetic” to the Sangh. One name also doing the rounds is that of Vijay Pandurang Bhatkar, current Chancellor of Nalanda University, a technocrat who is considered the father of the Indian Supercomputer and president of the RSS-affiliated Vijnana Bharati, which promotes “swadeshi” science. Bhatkar was one of the first personalities who backed the demonetisation exercise.
On Friday, Shiv Sena leader Udhav Thackeray, who had proposed RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat, said Green Revolution pioneer M S Swaminathan should be considered. Shah is expected to meet Thackeray during his three-day visit to Mumbai that began on Friday.