New Delhi: Mamata Banerjee, the West Bengal Chief Minister, convened a gathering of opposition leaders on Wednesday. Several parties, including Congress, participated in this meeting to explore names for a united presidential candidate.
The two names are in the air: former West Bengal Governor and Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson, Gopalkrishna Gandhi, and former Jammu & Kashmir CM, Farooq Abdullah.
On the other hand, the incumbent BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), which is almost certain to win the presidential election, result, will be announced on July 21. The NDA has an advantage over the opposition in any likely contest. So, few are wondering which camp will win. The question is: who will be the NDA’s candidate?
Union minister Rajnath Singh and BJP president JP Nadda are busy in discussions with the opposition parties for a consensus candidate. The name might have already been decided, but we don’t know who that could be. Not many, even within the BJP do.
In 2002, the NDA fielded APJ Abdul Kalam as its candidate for the post of India’s President. The move stumped the opposition Congress and regional parties such as the Samajwadi Party (Uttar Pradesh) and the TDP (Andhra Pradesh), who ultimately backed India’s “missile man” for the country’s top constitutional post. So did Banerjee.
Kalam was from Tamil Nadu, and the state’s two main parties, the AIADMK and the DMK, had no reason to oppose him.The only exception was the Left, which fielded freedom fighter Lakshmi Sahgal, who lost in a one-sided contest.
More recently, during the last election in 2017, the NDA sprung a surprise by picking the then Bihar Governor and low-profile Dalit leader, Ram Nath Kovind. He won easily.
The NDA may repeat Kovind or surprise us with another surprising choice in the presidential election, for which voting will happen only when there is no one consensus candidate from both camps. Some reports say Karnataka Governor and Dalit leader Thawar Chand Gehlot, Telangana Governor Tamilsai Soundararajan and former Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan might also be considered.
We don’t know if this is even a consideration, but Union minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi fits the BJP’s knack of reaching out to electorally significant communities and leaving the opposition with little choice. He is a Shia Muslim. His wife is a Hindu. Sections of Shia Muslims have been softer on the BJP. Whatever support for the NDA government’s law against triple talaq came from the Muslim community, it came from Shia Muslims.
Naqvi has not been nominated for the Rajya Sabha, and the Lok Sabha polls will happen only in 2024. His candidature can not really be ruled out. Another such choice could be Kerala Governor Mohammad Arif Khan.
There are many other such probabilities. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has often praised Tamil culture, saying the Tamil language is older than even Sanskrit. Suppose a Tamilian from down south is picked as the presidential nominee.
In that case, it will help the BJP make inroads into almost virgin territory and it will be difficult for even some opposition parties like the TRS to oppose the candidature. It will also be difficult for Tamil Nadu’s ruling party, the DMK, to stay on in the opposition camp. The BJP was an ally of Tamil Nadu’s opposition party, the AIADMK, in the last state polls.