Updated: June 17, 2022 8:21:59 am
On Wednesday, amid a day of hectic activity in the Opposition camp with Mamata Banerjee meeting 16 non-BJP parties to find a potential candidate for the July 18 presidential election, senior BJP leaders Rajnath Singh and J P Nadda reached out to the Opposition camp in an effort to find a consensus candidate for the post.
On Wednesday, while Singh called up Mallikarjun Kharge (Congress), Mayawati (BSP), Akhilesh Yadav (SP), Mamata Banerjee (TMC), Naveen Patnaik (BJD), Sharad Pawar (NCP) and Shibu Soren (JMM), Nadda spoke to Conrad Sangma (NPP), Farooq Abdullah (NC), among others.
Though the ruling party would want as many parties as possible to support its potential candidate – considering the BJP has a majority only in Lok Sabha, not in Rajya Sabha and state assemblies, and would hence not have the numbers on its own to win the presidential election – the exercise by Rajnath Singh is meaningless given the circumstances.
For one, the relationship between the ruling party and the Opposition is at its nadir with investigating agencies moving against Opposition leaders in a number of states. In fact, the ruling BJP began its exercise of initiating a conversation with the Opposition at a time when the Enforcement Directorate was questioning Congress’s Rahul Gandhi and on a day when the Delhi Police barged into the Congress headquarters and allegedly roughed up his party’s senior leaders and lawmakers.
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Not only the Opposition, even those in the ruling party admit that given this background and the distrust, the attempt by the BJP leaders to reach out on the presidential elections is a meaningless exercise and that there is no sign of a consensus candidate for the Rashtrapati Bhavan, a post that’s considered to be above party lines.
While the BJP is desperate to get more regional parties to back its candidate for the post of President, someone who will play a crucial role in pushing the party’s ideological and policy agenda over the next five years, the reality is that today’s BJP – despite its exponential growth in terms of membership and electoral gains – does not have too many leaders who can reach out to those across the aisle.
For the job, the party has authorised its president J P Nadda – who, unlike his immediate predecessor Amit Shah, enjoys the image of being soft-spoken and moderate — and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, the BJP leader who is the most acceptable face for the Opposition camp.
Though Singh, a former party president, does not get to call the shots either in the party or in the government, both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Shah have often used him to reach out to the Opposition to coordinate floor strategy in Parliament, to muster support for contentious Bills and as a troubleshooter during conflict situations.
In the past, the BJP used Jaswant Singh, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitely, considering their cordial ties with leaders across party lines, to reach out to the Opposition or talk to allies during crises. However, after the demise of these leaders, the party’s communication lines with other parties has seen a major breakdown. Although Nitin Gadkari is another senior leader who is known to enjoy cordial relationships with a number of non-BJP leaders, the current leadership has been banking on Singh’s acceptance and wide experience in administration.
But the Opposition is in no mood to let the BJP walk away with the presidential election. A number of Opposition leaders, including Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M K Stalin, in fact, hope the process of finding a common candidate turns into an exercise to bring non-BJP parties together on a common platform – as a dry-run ahead of the 2024 general election.
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