With present incumbent to the office of President of India Pranab Mukherjee’s tenure in office coming to an end in July 2017 and election of the next president likely to be held early July this year in all probability, a flurry of hectic activities is gathering momentum in political parties. In the aftermath of its landslide victory in UP and Uttarakhand and formation of governments in Goa and Manipur, the BJP is hopeful of getting its candidate elected to the highest executive post and concurrently non-NDA opposition parties are also making efforts to give ‘tough’ fight to the NDA by nominating its candidate.
The procedure enshrined in the Constitution of India envisages that president is elected by an electoral college comprising the elected members of both houses of Parliament, the elected members of the Legislative Assemblies of the 29 states and the elected members of the legislative assemblies of the Union Territories of Delhi and
Puducherry. As of 2017, the Electoral College comprises 776 MPs and 4120 MLAs. The total strength of Electoral College is 10, 98,882 votes. Halfway mark is 5,49,442 votes.
The nomination of a candidate for election to the office of the President must be subscribed by at least 50 electors as proposers and 50 electors as seconders. The election is held in accordance with the system of proportional representation by means of the single transferable vote method. The voting takes place by secret ballot as provided by Article 55 of the Constitution.
After its stunning performance in the recently held poll to the five state assemblies, stakes for the BJP in electing its own candidate to the highest executive office have become very high.Many names and theories are doing the rounds in BJP circles about who will occupy the top post. From a Dalit to a woman and a tribal to a RSS choice; the guessing game is far from over.
In the BJP’s power corridors, names of senior party leaders like L.K. Advani, M.M. Joshi, Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan, I&B Minister M Venkaiah Naidu, and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj etc are doing rounds. Some experts opine thatAdvani and Joshi are stronger contenders as compared to the rest.
L K Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi, both, were Modi’s mentors during latter’s initial days. The credit to send Modi to Gujarat to take over as chief minster goes to Advani who also stood by him in his days of crisis. When Joshi unfurled the tricolour at Srinagar’s Lal Chowk in 1992, he had Modi by his side. It was Modi’s first tryst with the limelight. Will Modi now offer guru dakshina to his mentors? According to latest media reports, PM Modi is reported to have put forward Advani’s name saying that it would be a ‘guru dakshina’ for BJP veteran LK Advani. The BJP’s allies in the NDA say they have no problems about Advani being projected as the next president.
However, of late, there have been reports that Advani may not be considered, in view of his age and his criticism of the powers that be. Pointing to RSS factor in BJP’s selection of its probable presidential candidate, some observers opine that RSS would prefer Joshi, being exceptionally disciplined having given up his constituency for Modi and never complaining, over Advani known for his diluted ‘ideological core’ through public tantrums and intemperate statements. Undoubtedly, BJP leaders have their fingers crossed; nevertheless, there is underlying feeling that it would be unlikely “Lagta nahi hai” is the common refrain of BJP leaders on the possibility of the either of the two veterans becoming country’s presidential candidate of the NDA. However, PM Modi is known for springing surprises.
The non-NDA Opposition parties have kept the channels of communication open among themselves. The initiative to embarrass the BJP in the presidential polls to be held in July has reportedly been taken by Bihar CM Nitish Kumar, who has held meetings with the leaders of CPI(M), CPI, AAP and the Indian National Lok Dal. Other Opposition parties such as Trinamool Congress, AIADMK and BJD, though in principle are supporting the move, have not yet come out into the open.
Media reports indicate that the Congress has also been contacted and the parties have got a favourable response from it.
Some experts opine that Advani on his own might reach out to other political parties, if the BJP does not nominate him. However, there is an outside chance of the veteran politician throwing his hat in the ring nonetheless, which would leave Modi and his team embarrassed.
The game of numbers is currently in favour of the BJP, especially after its landslide victory in UP and Uttarakhand, 30 seats in Manipur (with allies) and 13 seats in Goa. This has enabled the NDA to dramatically reduce its gap to the halfway mark of 5, 49, 442 votes in the Electoral College and it now short of just 12,686 votes to get its own candidate as the next President. The total strength of the Electoral College that elects the President is 10, 98,882 votes. Prior to the outcome of recently held state assembly elections, the NDA was short of 79,274 votes. But BJP’s clean sweep in UP and Uttarakhand has given the party an undeniable edge. While the total votes of BJP in the Electoral College stand at 4, 39,889, along with its allies its number has increased to 5, 36, 756.
The total votes of the UPA in the Electoral College stand at 1, 90, 457 of which 1, 62, 672 votes are of the Congress. So, the UPA being far away from the halfway mark to propose its candidate as a presidential nominee, it requires the support of other non-NDA and non-UPA opposition parties like AIADMK, DMK, BJP, Trinamool Congress, RJD, JD (U), Left parties and other smaller parties, whose cumulative voting strength in the Electoral College stands at 3, 67, 500. Thus the total voting strength of the UPA and other non-NDA and non-UPA opposition parties cumulatively stands at 5, 57, 957, which is above the halfway mark.
However, given the magnitude of ideological differences between and amongst the opposition parties comprising UPA and other opposition parties, their coming together and select a consensus presidential candidate seems a very remote possibility because each party would prefer its own candidate. Therefore, as the situation obtains, the arithmetic goes in favour of the NDA which can manage 12, 686 votes in the Electoral College to reach the magic halfway number by wooing AIADMK having 59, 048 votes or Independents which have 15, 212 votes in the Electoral College.
The recent observations by Supreme Court that the charges of criminal conspiracy against Advani and Joshi in a Babri Mosque demolition case were dropped on a technicality and its suggestion for joint trial of the accused could dash their hopes they might have nursed to be elected the next President of India.
Some experts don’t even rule out a second term to incumbent Pranab Mukherjee, who has reportedly shared a great rapport with the PM Modi during the past three years and that can be another factor leading to his reappointment. He can be a consensus candidate. One observer has opined that howsoever suitable the current President maybe for a reappointment, his reappointment is going to raise some eyebrows within the BJP. Modi has several options before him and each option has its own advantages and disadvantages involving conflicting considerations. How well he is able to handle this situation will surely be a test of his political acumen.