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This way to Rashtrapati Bhavan: BJP has the numbers, but why it’s still extending a hand

Ally JD(U) has floated a Nitish Kumar balloon, but BJP wouldn't want a "difficult" ally in the top seat

Written by Liz Mathew | New Delhi |
Updated: June 14, 2022 8:00:13 am
BJP's decision on Sunday to depute party chief J P Nadda and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh to hold consultations with political parties on its presidential nominee hints at the ruling party's willingness to evolve a consensus.

There have been several instances over the last eight years when the ruling BJP has realised that its numerical majority alone hasn’t been enough for it to push its ideological and legislative agenda through.

With the BJP-led government having to go back on some of its key decisions — the land acquisition ordinance that was allowed to be lapsed in 2015, the rollback of the three farm laws in 2021, the delay in the implementation of the amended citizenship law — the party appears to be moving carefully ahead of the 2024 general elections and the upcoming presidential polls.

BJP’s decision on Sunday to depute party chief J P Nadda and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh to hold consultations with political parties on its presidential nominee hints at the ruling party’s willingness to evolve a consensus.

While Singh, one of the most senior leaders in the party, enjoys remarkable goodwill across party lines, Nadda has the image of a soft-spoken and moderate leader. (Another leader who has earned respect from the Opposition parties is Nitin Gadkari.) The move shows that the BJP leadership is keen on getting as much as support – a unanimous candidate, if possible – for the July 18 presidential election.

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However, it’s not entirely a flag of truce from the BJP, which has often been accused of not making efforts to take everyone along when it comes to crucial policy decisions. It’s also a strategy for the party to garner the maximum support for its eventual presidential candidate, who could play a significant role over the next five years for pushing the party’s policy and legislative agenda.

The BJP and its allies have 48 per cent votes (5.26 lakh in the electoral college of 10.86 lakh votes) and would need parties like the BJD (which has over 31,000 votes), YSRCP (estimated to have over 43,000 votes) and AIADMK (15,000). With these parties apparently already pledging their votes for the BJP candidate, party leaders say “there is no question of our nominee losing the election.”

But its ally in Bihar, the JD(U) has already set the cat among the pigeons by suggesting Chief Minister Nitish Kumar could be a presidential candidate. JD(U) leader and Kumar’s ministerial colleague, Shravan Kumar, had proposed publicly that Kumar “can be a good candidate for the President of India.” This is exactly what the BJP wanted to avoid when it sent senior party leader and Union Minister Dharmendra Pradhan to Patna for talks with the Bihar Chief Minister in May. Kumar’s pitch for the post, if seriously pursued, could be the beginning of another set of tough times for the BJP ahead of the next Lok Sabha elections.

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Party leaders admit that Kumar cannot be the party’s candidate for the presidential post since the JD(U) chief is known to be “an unreliable and tough ally” who puts his foot down at critical moments. What’s more, Kumar is a leader who enjoys good ties with a number of non-BJP parties – even the Congress would consider backing him if he throws his hat in the ring.

For the BJP, its presidential candidate should not only be a person who is unlikely to create a difficult situation for party-led governments, but should also be able to give it maximum leverage ahead of the next elections. The party is, therefore, likely to pick a candidate from the backward castes or someone from a tribal community. With the party focusing on consolidation of women votes, a woman candidate is also not being ruled out.

So, even while BJP leaders have been claiming that its presidential pick will have a cakewalk in the July election, the arithmetic tells another story. The BJP managed 7,02,044 votes for its presidential candidate Ram Nath Kovind in 2017. But today, the NDA’s total electoral college votes are down to 5.26 lakh.

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The electoral college consists of Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha and state assemblies, and the BJP has a majority only in the Lower House; not in the Upper House or in the votes from the state assemblies even with the backing of the YSRCP, BJD and AIADMK.

The electoral college consists of Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha and state assemblies and the BJP has a majority only in the Lower House.

The BJP has, however, begun its exercise of reaching out to friendly parties much ahead of the Opposition. The Opposition camp is still in disarray. While Congress president Sonia Gandhi has initiated discussions with Opposition parties for coordination on the presidential elections, Trinamool Congress leader and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee announced a parallel move by calling 19 parties for the same purpose. Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao has also had multiple meetings and discussions on the subject. As long as there is no convergence in these attempts, the BJP is comfortable. For the party, placing its own choice in Rashtrapati Bhavan would be a major milestone in its road to 2024.

Tailpiece: In the debates of the Constituent Assembly, K T Shah had suggested that the President should be directly selected by the people through a secret ballot because the electoral college “consisting of the members of the Central Legislature as well as those of the Provincial or States legislatures is not sufficiently representative of the people’s will”. Dr B R Ambedkar opposed it, citing the size of the electorate and the administrative machinery and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru defended the current electoral college saying it was the “middle ground” that would ensure that the majority party in the Lok Sabha would not have a president of its own choice. However, going by the current position, the party which has a majority in the Lok Sabha, but not in the other two components of the electoral college – state assemblies and Rajya Sabha – will still have its way.

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First published on: 13-06-2022 at 01:29:29 pm

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