This is the question that was driving BJP’s political strategy and its relations with all parties including its allies and those oppose it. It is a question of prestige and political manoeuvring abilities of the incumbent team that is now running both the party and the government.
For the records, vote share of NDA in Electoral College stands at ~48.6%. Of this, 40% belongs to BJP itself. Total vote share of UPA is ~35.5%. The rest is supposed to be swinging vote in political terms. If one goes by the new generation Power Point managers, it is a cake walk for Modi and his team to achieve simple majority that is needed to choose the next President. Then like all other projects, even here, what is feasible on a screen is not always true in factual sense.
First, it is the oldest ally of BJP i.e., Shiv Sena. Relations between BJP and Shiv Sena are at present not exactly pleasant, especially after the BMC elections. Forgetting the role, it played in forcing BJP to emerge as the strongest party in Maharashtra, Shiv Sena cries foul condemning the ‘imperialist’ attitude of BJP. As of now, Shiv Sena is ruling BMC with the tacit support of BJP, while BJP runs the state government with direct support from Shiv Sena. Participation of Shiv Sena in union cabinet was the only remnant of the legacy of this once strong alliance.
The future course of BJP’s relations with Shiv Sena will not only depend on the outcome of the presidential elections but also how Shiv Sena behaves in the run up to the election. True to its short sightedness, Shiv Sena played the game spoiler by suggesting Mohan Bhagwat should be made next President. In the last two elections too, Shiv Sena has not supported BJP’s candidate. Though one can understand its support to Pratibha Patil, for her being from the state of Maharashtra, the support to Pranab Mukherjee could never be explained by Shiv Sena. And Shiv Sena has a vote share of 2.34% in Electoral College.
In all probability, Devendra Fadnavis may call mid-term polls in Maharashtra to form a government of his own. Going by the latest trends and moods of people he would not not be wrong in his choice, if he so chooses to exercise this option. That forces BJP to consider other options to get its nominee as President.
This predicament is exactly what is behind the political manoeuvres in Tamilnadu. As long as Jayalalithaa was there, despite the façade they put up for public, Narendra Modi had a fabulous relationship with Jaya. Even without her it was not a problem for Modi as the party that rules Tamilnadu was always friends with the party that is in power in Delhi. Everything was smooth till Sasikala decided to get into the hot seat herself. This particular decision created the present political turmoil in Tamilnadu. Though Sasikala was now safely resting in Bangaluru jail, the split had caused much worry to the election managers of BJP. With increased greed, Dinakaran committed the mistake of jumping into the spider web woven by one swindler only to lose money and later himself. With Dinakaran now in the police custody, in no time Sasikala’s posters have come down in the party’s office and the pressure on both factions is tremendous to unify. It may be noted that this pressure is not from the people, for these politicians have scant respect for public opinion, but out of fear that they may have to lose power. Either way, now both factions are forced to either fight it out in the open or settle it down in a closed room, but shall come to terms with one another.
By May end, BJP would know how the summer winds from the south would blow. If AIADMK comes to have an understanding with BJP to support its candidate, it would be a great relief to BJP. As such, AIADMK has nothing to gain by supporting Congress nominee, as Congress is expected to be in opposition for long. Keeping interests of the state in mind, AIADMK would in all probability support BJP, solving perhaps all problems of BJP. Bringing AIADMK into its fold is crucial for BJP to counter the sudden demands from other small allies that may try to encash from the situation. With ~5.3% vote share, AIADMK is the second largest regional party and so would bring much needed stability to NDA’s posture. With AIADMK supporting its candidate, BJP can easily force other adamant allies to fall in line.
Another neutral party to the elections is Naveen Patnaik’s BJD, who was once in the NDA fold. Though in normal times it is natural for Naveen to support BJP’s candidate, but the rise of BJP in Odisha has changed political equations, at least for now. Ignoring protocol, Naveen did not met Modi, while the Prime Minister was touring Odisha, but choose to meet the ‘Rage of Bengal’ Mamta Banerjee. It is expected that mercurial Mamta already convinced Naveen against forging any sort of friendship with Modi, but be part of the larger alliances the opposition is planning for 2019. Though Naveen Patnaik may not have problems if BJP occupies the opposition slot in Odisha at the cost of Congress, he may not exactly like the idea if BJP tries to marginalise even BJD.
However, in the worst-case scenario of not getting AIADMK into its fold, BJP may nominate Draupadi Murmu, presently Governor of Jharkhand as a President candidate. Being a woman and tribal from Odisha, BJP may force Naveen to support its candidate lest he may seem to be playing against the interests of fellow Odiya. This will be a win-win situation for BJP.
With 1.99% vote share, even TRS may be induced into BJP’s fold. Though BJP is trying hard to make its presence felt in Telangana, Chandrasekhara Rao can gamble by supporting BJP’s candidate. And, his support would be a result of a better political analysis and acumen. As such, even if BJP tries hard, it would be growing in Telangana at the expense of other opposition parties, excluding AIMIM.
Unlike in the case of Chandrababu Naidu, his counterpart in Andhra Pradesh, son and daughter of Chandrasekhara Rao are political assets for him, who have already proven their credentials. Meanwhile, it helps Telangana to have smooth relations with the centre, especially when both Telugu speaking states are racing towards development.
By May end, before the notification for elections is released, Modi and his team might have evaluated their position in the presidential elections. Unlike Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who was forced to choose a consensus candidate, Modi may opt to get his candidate elected. Here, he may try to take a leaf out of Vajpayee’s political philosophy and follow to get a consensus candidate elected commonly by the opposition. Except AAP and TMC, no one else in the opposition are against a consensus candidate, including Congress. In fact, Congress may welcome it. However, much care may be needed in choosing the consensus candidate so the person would elevate the stature of the position like Abdul Kalam, who was Vajpayee’s candidate. The acceptance of opposition is what differentiates statesmen from political leaders. If Modi choose to get his candidate elected, just because he can, he is still well within his constitutional rights. He may enforce another Pratibha Patil on India. But, the history would remember him for doing so.
Another aspect that some hardcore BJP supporters may like is to declare Advani as the candidate for President. When Modi can select one, why not Advani? Sounds correct. And, this has another ramification on the nation too. If he gets elected as President, the trial against him in the Babri Masjid case becomes void and will turn much like DA case against Jayalalithaa. However, making Advani will only portray Modi as a hard-core kar-sevak, who flayed the constitution. Apart from this bad image, Modi will have to put up with the tantrums of Advani, who may want to extract what he already lost to Modi. And, it would be next to impossible to placate Murli Manohar Joshi, who would throw tantrums if only Advani is promoted, as he considers himself a better intellectual. Finally, this choice would remain a drawing room discussion with neither Advani nor Joshi becoming the candidate.
One danger in going for a consensus candidate is that opposition may demand the position of Vice President. This condition would never be accepted by Modi and so he would prefer to get his candidate elected in a contest. The current calm in Maharashtra politics and turbulence in Tamilnadu politics are a proof to the political chess being played by BJP from both sides. The end game may be played by may end and unless it is a draw, it is BJP that would win.