Who will be the next occupant of Rashtrapati Bhavan? The incumbent Pranab Mukherjee will retire on July 25 after a successful fiveyear inning. While there was a possibility for a second term for Mukherjee before the UP polls, after the unprecedented results of the recent five state Assembly polls the BJP is moving towards installing its candidates as president and vice president. They both could be from the RSS stable. Having a president of its choice in Rashtrapati Bhavan will be helpful to the party in complicated political situations – like imposing Central rule in a state. A strong vice president would help in the Rajya Sabha where the BJP is in a minority.
What does the electoral arithmetic say? The president is elected by members of an electoral college that comprises elected members of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha and elected members of all legislative assemblies. The total value of votes of the MPs is 5,49,408 while the total value of votes of all 4,120 MLAs across India is 5,49,474. Going by the present count, the BJP alone has 4,33,182 votes and along with its NDA allies the number goes up to 5,24,088. This is still 25,354 votes short of the half way mark of the total 10,98,882 votes. Even if the arithmetic is short of the 50.1 per cent mark, the formidable political stature of Prime Minister Narendra Modi that the recent election has reinforced will afford him all the leeway he needs to get the support of smaller parties for candidates of his choice. The BJP hopes to bridge this gap by mobilising support from non UPA, non-BJP parties like the AIADMK, BJD, TRS, INLD and even JD (U). But the support can only come if the choice of candidate is acceptable to these parties.
Though the BJP leaders claim that no discussions have taken place so far about the probables, there has been speculation in political and party circles. There are candidates for every possible scenario be it a scheduled caste, scheduled tribe, a Brahmin, the Other Backward Classes or a woman but certainly not a Muslim as the BJP may not choose one. It could be some one from the Northeast or from the south, as the party wants to expand in both regions. While the names of octogenarian BJP leaders L.K.Advani and Dr Murli Manohar Joshi were doing the rounds earlier, their chances have dimmed after the revival of the Babri Masjid demolition case by the Supreme Court last week. While Prime Minister Modi has reasons not to support Advani as the latter had opposed him from becoming the prime ministerial candidate in 2013, Dr Joshi continues to have good relations with the RSS. He has also tried to bridge the gap with Modi in the past three year. While some in the BJP claim that no governors are under consideration, the octogenarian Uttar Pradesh Governor Ram Naik’s name is doing the rounds. He had been the Petroleum minister in the Vajpayee government and is also close to Modi and the RSS. His age is his minus point but rules are always waived when required. The name of the Jharkhand Governor Draupathi Murmu (58) is also being floated as she is a tribal woman and so far no tribal has occupied Rashtrapati Bhavan. The other tribal leader whose name has surfaced is the former Deputy Speaker Karia Munda from Jharkhand.
There has been speculation about elevating Lok Sabha speaker Sumitra Mahajan (73) as Vice president or President. Mahajan has served as Speaker for the past three years and had a long stint as an M.P from Madhya Pradesh and had been a minister of state in the Vajpayee government.
Among the ministers, the name of Sushma Swaraj (65) is under speculation for both posts. She is a Brahmin and has acquitted herself well as a minister in the NDA governments. She was the Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha earlier. After her recent kidney transplant, it is felt that she might be given a less strenuous role, as her present position needs constant overseas travel. Yet another whose name is in circulation is urban development minister M. Venkaiah Naidu (67). He had been the party chief earlier, served the party well and had been a minister in the Vajpayee government. Since the BJP needs a strong chairman for the Rajya Sabha, his name is doing the rounds for both posts.
Union Minister for social development and entrepreneurship Thavar Chand Gehlot (68) is a Dalit face and is liked by Modi. The other Dalit face being talked about is former Minister Jatiya, from Madhya Pradesh who was the labour minister in Vajpayee government.
The wounded opposition is getting ready to field its own candidates for both posts, as it does not want to let the presidency go unopposed. Congress President Sonia Gandhi is leading the opposition in finding a common candidate and has been talking to the Left, JD (U) and other parties. But it will only be a futile exercise as the BJP has the magic numbers in its pocket. The ideal position would be to find a consensus candidate for both posts. Modi should reach out to the opposition to find a good candidate. Going by the way Modi operates; it could be a dark horse and a person loyal to him. After all he had produced such people from the RSS stable earlier.