In run-up to Presidential polls, BJP, Opposition make their first moves
The search for the next President of India got more interesting on Wednesday, with Defence Minister and senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Rajnath Singh speaking to West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee to see if the Opposition and the government could build a bipartisan consensus on one name. Singh’s intervention came after Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Sharad Pawar signalled his unwillingness to be the Opposition’s candidate. Singh also spoke to the Congress party’s Mallikarjun Kharge, Biju Janata Dal (BJD) chief Naveen Patnaik, and the Samajwadi Party’s Akhilesh Yadav.
Earlier in the day, Banerjee spearheaded a meeting of Opposition parties where she made it clear that Pawar had refused the Opposition’s offer. Among other possible candidates are former Jammu & Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah, and retired diplomat and civil servant Gopal Gandhi. Opposition parties are expected to meet again and discuss everything, including the BJP’s offer.
“Several parties were here today. We’ve decided that we will choose one consensus candidate. Everybody will give this candidate their support. We will consult others. This is a good beginning. We sat together after several months, and we will do it again,” Banerjee, also the chief of the Trinamool Congress, told the media after the meeting.
The BJP said it would call a meeting of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), and the party’s parliamentary board will meet in the meantime and decide on a name. This is based on the premise that a consensus on a common candidate is unlikely.
These developments took place on a day when the Congress alleged a Delhi Police team entered New Delhi’s 24, Akbar Road, the party’s headquarters, without a search or arrest warrant, and took some party members into custody. Some, including member of Parliament Jothi Mani, were allegedly manhandled, their clothes were torn, and they were denied water. Congress workers, including MPs, were protesting against the interrogation of former party president Rahul Gandhi by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) for a third straight day.
Against this backdrop, Kharge spoke at the meeting hosted by Banerjee. He said Sonia Gandhi, who was unwell, had asked him to reach out to Opposition parties about a consensus Presidential candidate to fight the ‘divisive and destructive policies of the RSS and BJP”. He said the Congress had put aside its own efforts, as Banerjee had called a meeting on the same issue.
Kharge spelt out the Congress’ view of such a candidate: He or she must be committed to upholding the Constitution, protecting the institutions of the Indian democracy, and “ready to fight bigotry, prejudice, hatred and polarisation”. He also said the Congress had no particular candidate in mind and was ready to go along with the consensus name.
Kharge added that the Congress was conscious that many of the parties present were arrayed against the Congress in Assemblies. “But that has not prevented the meeting from taking place… We must remain united and disciplined and not score political points against each other,” he told the gathering. Earlier, Rahul Gandhi had, at the Congress’ Udaipur meeting, underlined the acceptability and universality of the Congress, and dismissed regional parties as “casteist”.
Among the notable absentees from the Opposition meeting were the usual suspects: Members of the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS), Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and YSR Congress. The Aam Aadmi Party had already said it would not attend a meeting till it knew who the common candidate would be, making it clear it was not forwarding any name. The DMK’s T R Baalu said the leaders present at the meeting had requested Kharge, Banerjee and Pawar to discuss with parties the fielding of a joint Opposition candidate.
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