Dark-horses In Presidential Polls

L K Advani

Venkaiah Naidu could be surprise choice if Modi chooses other than LK Advani or Dr Joshi, but if BJP doesn’t do well in UP, Pranab Mujherjee may emerge consensus candidate

By Anil Anand

 Even before the heat and dust over ongoing five state Assembly elections, including dominant Uttar Pradesh, settles, a new fight would be on among political rivals both of the NDA and UPA variety as also the splinter groups outside the two combines. The elegant Rashtrapati Bhawan perched atop Raisina Hills would this time be the target.

The battle over who would be the next occupant of the Rashtrapati Bhawan begins as soon as these elections are over as by mid-2017 the country is slated to have a new President. The passage to the Bhawan this time around seems traversing through mainly the Uttar Pradesh Assembly with Punjab having the potential of tilting the balance either way. Since the electorate for Presidential elections comprises of Members of both the Houses of Parliament, state Assemblies and those of semi-states of Delhi and Puducherry, so the significance of UP with a 403-member house, the largest among the state Assemblies.

 Both the BJP and the non-NDA political parties, barring BSP as Mayawati would be having different designs, are definitively looking at UP and Punjab from this perspective. For BJP under Prime Minister Narendra Modi winning UP is crucial firstly to capture the state which gave the party 73 MPs and be in strong reckoning to repeat the feat in 2019. And more importantly for the first time have Sangh Parivar nominee as President.

For all practical reasons Mayawati, as is the practice with her, would decide the BSP’s course of action depending upon the circumstances that the Assembly elections throw up. If the situation arises she would not be averse to enter into alliance with BJP to form the next government given the fact that BJP-BSP combine had once governed UP.  In that event she would be on board to support a Presidential candidate of BJP’s choice. In case she forms the government on her own even then she would keep her options of backing a BJP or opposition sponsored candidate, open.

So UP and to some extent Punjab would decide what contours the Presidential election, at least in the matter of candidates, adopts. Would the BJP and allies have their way or would the game of consensus come into play? The answers to these vital questions are hidden in the Electronic Voting Machines to be unravelled to some extent on March 11 when the counting takes place.

A favourable result in UP and say Uttrakhand and Goa, though the strength of last mentioned two Assemblies is small, 71 and 40 respectively, can ease situation for the BJP but it could still need help from important regional players such as Naveen Patnaik ( BJD in Orissa), Mamata Banerjee ( Trinmool Congress in West Bengal), Chandrababu Naidu ( TDP in Andhra Pradesh), K Chandrashekhar Rao, (Telengana Rashtra Samithi in Telengana) and the fledgling AIADMK (having sizable number of MPs in two Houses of Parliament and MLAs in Tamil Nadu Assembly).

Given the stiff demeanour put up by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during first half of the Budget Session of the Parliament, it would be interesting to see as to how much he could scale down what his political rivals describe as the level of arrogance. As indicated by the sharp posturing by him and his rivals during the course of election campaigning in these states their differences would become sharp by the time the polls end. Although most of the states and the regional leaders as mentioned above are not directly involved in these state elections but many of them would end up taking a public stand backing one side or the other.

First priority for Modi at this juncture is certainly to ensure BJP repeats the 2014 Lok Sabha election performance in UP if he is to ensure a Sangh Parivar candidate’s entry into Rahstrapati Bhawan. On the other hand the new found “boyish” alliance of Rahul Gandhi and Akhilesh Yadav, if performs well, could have a significant role to play in Presidential elections which could also have a direct bearing on next Lok Sabha elections.

The era of coalition politics is also the era of dark-horses. Even if BJP performs well in UP and some other states, there still be doubts if he would be able to select a Presidential candidate of his own choice as he would be required to accommodate sentiments of some of his allies and regional players. And for the process of selecting consensus candidate to come into play in the event of the Assembly elections delivering a verdict either against the BJP or a split one, would be a difficult proposition.

It is difficult to fathom who really could be the candidate which Modi has in his mind if he would to select based on his own strength. Among the visible options powerful and omnipresent Union Minister for Urban Development and Information and Broadcasting M Venkaiah Naidu could be fathoming his chances. Going by his presence in the Parliament and the media, he has attained the sobriquet of being the number one saviour and defender of the country.

If members of the BJP ‘Margdarshak Mandal’, LK Advani and Murli Manoha Joshi would be considered by Modi for the top slot, it cannot be ruled out altogether. But it would entail lot of hard work on the part of the two veteran’s supporters to convince Modi as his would be the final word.

So far as the consensus or unanimity over a Presidential candidate is concerned the most favoured would be the incumbent Pranab Mukherjee. He was the UPA nominee last time and he has played by the rule book on contentious issues without taking a contrarian view so as to invite heckles of the Union Government.

The border line is that it would be very difficult to predict a dark-horse. In either way, whether BJP does well or not in Assembly elections, the theory of dark-horses would be on full display till the names of the candidates are formally declared for the Presidential elections.