Notwithstanding Prime Minister Manmohan Singhs phone call to Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj and senior BJP leader L K Advani yesterday seeking support for UPAs presidential candidate Pranab Mukherjee,the BJP today appeared inclined towards a principled contest against the ruling party nominee.
However,the final call will be taken by the NDA that is meeting tomorrow.
While a section of the party supports a consensus vote,given the stature of the post,the larger opinion during the BJP core group meeting today was in favour of a contest. BJP leaders pointed out that only one person,Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy,has been elected unopposed to the post since 1952,and that there had been no sincere effort by the Congress to build a consensus.
A final decision will be taken at a meeting of the NDA leaders tomorrow,BJP leader Ananth Kumar announced after the partys core group met at Nitin Gadkaris residence. Should it agree,the NDAs choice is likely to be former Lok Sabha speaker P A Sangma,whose name has already been proposed by Tamil Nadu and Orissa Chief Ministers J Jayalalithaa and Naveen Patnaik.
While Patnaik today said in Bhubaneswar that the BJD stood by Sangma as its choice,Jayalalithaa will make a fresh statement on his candidature as per a tentative plan worked out between BJP leaders and her late last night. Incidentally,Sangmas own party NCP an ally of the ruling UPA today threatened action if he decided to contest.
The BJP leadership is also hopeful of getting Trinamool Congresss support for the former Lok Sabha Speaker. Mamata has had some problems with Sangma,who was in her party for a while.
As for A P J Abdul Kalam,the BJP is unlikely to go with him as the former president has made it clear that he would only contest if he was sure of winning.
Incidentally,NDA partner JD(U) has sought a consensus vote in favour of Mukherjee. The PM earlier today called up Bihar Chief Minister and senior JD(U) leader Nitish Kumar to solicit support for the Finance Minister. While NDA convenor and JD(U) president Sharad Yadav refused to say anything ahead of the NDA meeting,its Rajya Sabha MP Shivanand Tewari said Mukherjee should be supported.
Another NDA ally Shiv Sena has indicated that it may not back a name from outside the NDA fold. That would rule out Sangma.
We had detailed discussions on the emerging situation, Ananth Kumar announced after todays meeting,saying Gadkari,Advani and Swaraj had spoken to various NDA leaders and chief ministers. While Gadkari,Advani,Swaraj and Ananth Kumar attended the meeting,other senior leaders like Murli Manohar Joshi,Venkaiah Naidu,Rajnath Singh and Arun Jaitley were absent because of their unavailability.
BJP leaders also questioned the lack of a sincere effort by the Congress to build a consensus. Advani,in fact,was learnt to have told the PM last evening,when he called to seek the BJPs support for Mukherjee,that his request had come a little late. He ought to have consulted the Opposition before finalising the UPA candidate,he said. When the PM responded that it was never late to make amends,Advani said the issue will be decided by the party and NDA.
Another dominant view within the principal opposition party is that it should challenge Mukherjee to avoid being bracketed with Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav. This would be consistent with its role in the run-up to the next Lok Sabha polls. This is particularly important,it feels,as three chief ministers from outside the NDA-fold Jayalalithaa,Patnaik and Mamata Banerjee of West Bengal had decided to stand up to the Congress. The BJP doesnt want to cede the opposition space to them. Besides,this also gives the party the opportunity to widen the NDA umbrella.
In the midst of all this,former minister and BJP MP Ram Jethmalani vowed to contest against Mukherjee if no one else was prepared to take him on,to prevent him from getting elected unopposed. Jethmalani told the media that even though Mukherjee was my friend,he had to oppose him because he had not disclosed the names of the people who stashed their black money in overseas banks. When asked if he had spoken to his party leadership on the issue,Jethmalani said he had not done so.