It is after 15 years that the BJP has the chance of electing a president of its choice and it doesn’t want anything to go wrong. In 2002, the Atal Behari Vajpayee government, short on numbers, was reportedly forced to compromise on its original choice of presidential candidate and throw up the surprise name of A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. This time, the BJP’s mandate is far greater and so is the planning going into the entire exercise. Party chief Amit Shah is meticulously working the numbers before the candidate’s name is announced.
“Kalam may have turned out to be a good choice, but we don’t want to be in that situation again,” admits a senior BJP leader. “We want a president of our choice and won’t settle for a compromise candidate of any sort.” The party may be keeping its cards close to the chest on its choice of president, but one thing seems clear: it will be someone from within the organisation.
Working towards a pan-India footprint, the BJP seems to have included Rashtrapati Bhavan too in its ‘Panchayat to Parliament’ ambition. “This does not mean the presidential office will be politicised. It is symbolic,” clarifies a Union minister. “Congress-led governments have always installed the president they wanted. In 2002, we had to change the candidate at the last minute. This time, we are being careful and want no misstep that might embarrass the government.”
Unless Shah and PM Narendra Modi are convinced they have the numbers to see their candidate comfortably through, they will not announce the name. Party sources say both are working individually, and in tandem, to garner support for the presidential, and subsequently the vice-presidential, polls. Clearly, they want to leave nothing to chance.
Recently, leaders of the two AIADMK factions, Tamil Nadu CM E. Palaniswami and O. Panneerselvam, met Modi and are believed to have assured their support. Telangana CM K. Chandrashekhar Rao of the TRS is also believed to have ended his ambivalence and extended support. “Perhaps he realised it is better to go with the government as the Opposition increasingly seems to be the losing side and his fledgling state can benefit immensely from the Centre’s support,” says a BJP office-bearer.
When YSR Congress chief Y.S.R. Jaganmohan Reddy announced support for the BJP’s nominee after meeting the PM on May 11, it was another blow to Sonia Gandhi’s attempts to bring the Opposition together. But it also irked NDA ally Telugu Desam Party (TDP). Last year, the PM had refused to meet Jagan. “The TDP should understand our political compulsions and how crucial the presidential polls are for the government. It better realise that Jagan is not untouchable for the BJP even at the state level,” says the office-bearer.
According to a top BJP functionary, the government is ahead by 1,15,720 votes in the contest. At the last count, soon after UP assembly results, though the party had added a considerable number of votes to its kitty, it was still lagging behind by nearly 12,000 votes. “Now, with assured support from the AIADMK factions, TRS and YSR Congress, it seems to be a done deal,” says a BJP leader.
The party has also factored in support from Naveen Patnaik’s BJD in its calculations. Patnaik, despite repeated overtures from the Opposition, has kept a neutral stance and the BJP is confident he will go along with the NDA nominee. However, according to a BJD leader, Patnaik is yet to make up his mind. “He doesn’t want to commit to the Opposition as the BJP has been talking about Draupadi Murmu (a tribal from Odisha) as a possible candidate. If that happens, there is no way the BJD can oppose her candidature,” says the BJD leader.
BJP sources say Shah has not just Plans A and B in place, but even a Plan C. If the government is sure of a lead of 1.15 lakh votes, it will consider going ahead with someone like RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat as candidate.
“It may not be Bhagwat himself, but surely someone as vocal as him on Hindutva and unapologetic about the concept of Hindu Rashtra. Yogi Adityanath, for example, was part of Shah’s Plan A for Uttar Pradesh,” says a BJP leader. Plan B and C could come into play if the government’s allies create a problem on the BJP’s choice or if the numbers dwindle for any reason and the party has to come up with an alternative. “To extend the UP example, if the BJP had less seats and needed smaller parties to form the government, its choice under Plan B was Union minister Manoj Sinha, who would then have been more acceptable,” the leader adds.
If the BJP is sure of a lead of 1.15 lakh votes, it will consider going ahead with someone like RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat.
Similarly, for the presidential polls, the government is believed to have a shortlist already and will announce the final nominee based on the numbers. Party sources say Shah discussed the probable candidates with Bhagwat earlier this week in a three-hour-long meeting at the RSS headquarters in Nagpur. “The sarsanghchalak (Bhagwat) said he was satisfied with the BJP’s plan and that the candidate’s name should not be announced in a hurry. Let the Opposition keep guessing; it’s keeping the leaders on their toes and preventing a cohesive response,” says a pleased RSS functionary.
The RSS has reason to be happy. This is the first time the organisation has a chance to elevate a person of its choice to the highest constitutional office of the country. “Our own PM and now our own president, what else do we want,” says the upbeat RSS member.
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The president is elected by an electoral college comprising all the MPs and all the MLAs of all the states, barring nominated members. The total number of voting MPs in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha is 776, while that of MLAs is 4,114. While votes of MPs have equal value, the value of an MLA’s vote depends on the state’s population. The total vote value of the electoral college is 10,98,882 votes. The winning candidate will have to secure at least 50 per cent plus 1 or 5,49,442 votes.
How is an MLA’s vote value calculated?
Total population of the state divided by the number of MLAs x 1000
How is an MP’s vote value calculated?
Total value of MLA votes divided by the total number of voting MPs
Total value of an MP’s vote: 708
Total value of an MLA’s vote: differs according to state’s population
A) Total value of MLA votes: 5,49,474
B) Total value of MP votes: 5,49,408
Total vote value: A+B = 10,98,882
How does the NDA stack up?
The NDA has 410 MPs (both Lok Sabha + Rajya Sabha) and 1,691 legislators.
This puts its total vote value at 5,37,614.
On its own, the NDA looks 11,828 short of majority.
Who can help the NDA sweep?