Consensus seems to be evading the opposition parties engaged in finding a suitable candidate for the Presidential election. The initiative, taken by Congress president Sonia Gandhi to bring together like-minded parties to put up a joint nominee, has not yielded any result, reflecting a complex set of inherent contradictions. The opposition’s effort is being keenly watched as it would serve as a barometer to gauge the contours of a larger non-BJP formation to take on the NDA in the 2019 general elections. Significantly, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, seen in some quarters as a potential challenger to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, skipped the meeting convened by Sonia Gandhi to discuss the opposition’s strategy. Instead, he attended the lunch, hosted by Modi, triggering speculation over his next political moves. The political manoeuvring to choose a successor to Pranab Mukherjee, whose term ends on July 25, has intensified in the past few weeks with the opposition insisting that the candidate should have impeccable secular credentials. The NDA leadership is, however, keeping its cards close to its chest. Savouring the recent string of electoral successes, the BJP is clearly ahead in the race but could fall short of about 18,000 votes in the 11 lakh-strong electoral college for the Presidential election. However, it is banking on both the warring factions of AIADMK and some other regional parties to bridge the gap.
The race to Raisina Hill could turn interesting if the opposition manages to close its ranks and put up a strong candidate who can challenge the NDA’s nominee. The Congress leadership has already reached out to parties such as the TMC, DMK, BSP, SP, RJD, NC, NCP, CPM, CPI, JD(U) and JD(S). However, a closer look suggests that their coming together is easier said than done because of internal contradictions. Many of them had fought against the Congress in the past. It is not the arithmetic but political chemistry that matters. While the names of Gopalkrishna Gandhi, Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson, and Maratha strongman Sharad Pawar are doing the rounds, there is no agreement on any candidate. The opposition camp has thrown the ball in the ruling party’s court to build a consensus. On the BJP front, the presidential ambition of LK Advani, octogenarian architect of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, now lays shattered in the wake of the Supreme Court reviving criminal conspiracy charges against him in the Babri Masjid demolition case. Jharkhand Governor Draupadi Murmu’s name is being suggested as India’s first-ever tribal president. The elevation of either Sumitra Mahajan or Sushma Swaraj is also seen as a possibility.