Token opposition to NDA nominee for President
The cloak and dagger secrecy over the election of the next President of India by both the ruling and the opposition parties shows a complete breakdown of relationships between the two sides. The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has the numbers to gets its nominee elected as the Head of the State. The opposition parties led by the grand old party, the Congress, and guided by ideological moorings of the Communist parties can at best hope to put up a token fight.
The candidates of both the opposition and the ruling party are usually well known in advance though there may be an occasional delay in formal announcement. Not since the famous contest between VV Giri and N Sanjeeva Reddy has the nominee for the next Head of State been kept such a closely guarded secret between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his confidante BJP president Amit Shah.
The plans to make the contest for the presidential election a forerunner to the next general election has failed to take off. The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Sharad Pawar and Samajwadi Partry (SP) stalwart Mulayam Singh Yadav have already indicated their preference to go with the NDA. The Congress has succeeded in keeping the Aam Aadmi Party out of the opposition conclave, a move that would add to the problems of the Kejriwal led outfit in the coming days.
Apart from opposition veterans breaking ranks, the ruling alliance has the support of Telugu Desam Party, Telangana Rashtra Samiti, YSR Congress and the rival factions of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetram Kazhgam. The parties of northeast and Jammu and Kashmir are expected to rally behind the NDA and give a fillip to the ruling party’s prospects in having its nominee as the President when elections are held on July 17.
The Shiv Sena’s initial reluctance to extend support to NDA nominee without the nominee being known is part of usual bargaining that the Mumbai-based party is well known about. In fact, the Shiv Sena had broken ranks of the NDA in the last two presidential elections and voted with the United Progressive Alliance candidates.
Yet the NDA and the opposition continue to maintain near silence on their prospective candidates. Both the sides seem to be keeping a close watch of development in the rival camps. Even as a committee comprising Home Minister Rajnath Singh, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and Information and Broadcasting Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu seek to build consensus on the next President, they seem to be in the dark on their candidate. The opposition, at the same time, the opposition desperately short of numbers is waiting for the NDA to announce their nominee for the Head of the State.
There was an effort by Janata Dal (United) president and Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar to build a consensus around a second term for incumbent Pranab Mukherjee. However, the lukewarm response by the NDA put paid to such a move. Barring Rajendra Prasad, no President of India has got a second term to office.
Presidential elections have been a rather tame affair, barring the keenly contested election between VV Giri and N. Sanjeeva Reddy in 1969. Giri was finally elected on the basis of second preferential vote. The reason for the close fight was an epic battle within the Congress as Indira Gandhi sought to outmanoeuvre the old guard in the party. However, Sanjeeva Reddy was elected unopposed in July 1977 in the election that followed Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed’s sudden death.
The decision of former Chief Justice of India K. Suba Rao to be opposition candidate against Zakir Hussain in 1967 was severely criticized as the judge jumped into electoral fray within days of relinquishing office. Many were to perceive that some of his landmark judgements that curtailed Parliament power to amend constitutional provisions dealing with fundamental rights were guided by political considerations.