With the election commission announcing the dates for the Presidential polls that will elect the new President to succeed outgoing President Pranab Mukherjee, hectic parleys have been going on within the opposing camps. This time the NDA led by the BJP is up against the combined might of the entire opposition (bar a few parties who are already part of the NDA or like the AIADMK and YSR-Congress who have formally pledged their support to the NDA nominee).
The combined opposition this time seems to be itching for a contest and if reports are to be believed, Sitaram Yechury of the Left and Lalu Prasad Yadav of JDS have dug their heels in and are not willing to make any compromise. The government however is scheduled to meet with the leaders of the opposition in an attempt at a consensus and Ghulam Nabi Azad the coordinator of the combined opposition group has also reportedly suggested to the opposition leaders that they wait for the government nominee.
Despite the fact that there has been no formal announcement by either group, many names have been bandied about and the most recent name to hit the headlines has been that of Gopalkrishna Gandhi who seems to be emerging as the consensus candidate of the combined opposition.
Gopal Krishna Gandhi comes with enviable lineage with Mahatama Gandhi as his paternal grandfather and Rajaji (Rajagopalachari) as his maternal grandfather and impeccable credentials having been Governor of West Bengal in addition to a long career as a diplomat, serving as High Commissioner of India to South Africa and Sri Lanka. He now teaches at Ashoka University.
The NDA/BJP may have missed a trick by not coming out in the open with their choice for President. They are lucky that the opposition has not yet made an official announcement with regard to Gopal Gandhi (assuming he is indeed the opposition choice) because if his name is suggested then what would the BJP do?
Rejecting his name would not be easy given Gopal Gandhi’s lineage and pedigree and with the Mahatma now having been adopted by none other than the Prime Minister himself for the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, would the BJP be able to reject the Mahatma’s grandson?
Then again, accepting his candidature also would be uncomfortable given Gopal Gandhi’s recent views on the NDA and BJP – In an interview in 2015 to the Scroll. he is quoted as having said “There is a sense of anxiety over rising intolerance and a sense of fear over the government not stopping or condemning acts of intolerance” Further, writing in the Wire Gopal Gandhi questioned the government decision to rename Aurangazeb road as A.P.J. Abdul Kalam Road stating that it had to do more with Politics and Hindutva, characterizing the “re-naming fever” as soft warfare and cultural politics. He went on to add for good measure “The re-naming of Aurangzeb Road as A. P. J. Abdul Kalam Road had little to do with Aurangzeb. It had less to do with Kalam. It had everything to do with polarising, with wanting to turn the knife in India’s Hindu-Muslim duality. It had little to do with history and everything to do with politics. It had little to do with social memory and everything to do with communal manipulation.”
Gopal Gandhi may well make a good President but he won’t be a good President for the NDA government at the center. Given, this scenario one wonders why the BJP is dragging its feet on naming someone. The sooner they come up with a name the better for them.
Even if were to be a contest, the BJP clearly has the upper hand. In our system which provides for the election of the President by the system of proportional representation by means of the “single transferable vote” the mammoth victory in UP has come as a timely boon for the BJP.
To understand the significance of the UP victory, one must consider the fact that each UP MLA commands a “vote-value” of 208 votes and each Sikkim MLA for example commands a “vote value” of 7 – a reflection of the population in the two states and their proportional representation through the system of the “single transferable vote”. The scale of the victory in UP has given the NDA a clear majority and in the event of a contest should be able to sail through comfortably.
Going by the present strength in the two houses of parliament (784 MPs) and the 31 Legislative Assemblies (4,114 MLAs), the BJP commands a vote share of 48.64%. The combined opposition has a vote share of 35.47%. Additionally six political parties namely – AIADMK, BJD, YSRCP, AAP, and the INLD hold a vote share of 13.06%. A slew of smaller parties that don’t fit into either of the two major groups – NDA and UPA or the six political parties mentioned above constitute the remaining 3% and don’t matter in the larger scheme of things.
Out of the 13.06% made up by the six regional parties the AIADMK and the YSRCP have already pledged their support to the BJP/NDA – this should ensure a cakewalk for the BJP in the event of a contest. Why then is the BJP holding its cards so close to its chest?
PM Modi is scheduled to fly to the US to meet with President Trump on June 24. He will go to Portugal and the Netherlands as well. If the buzz is to be believed, we should hear an announcement on or before that date.