Ahead of an Opposition meeting on June 15 called by Trinamool Congress supremo and West Bengal Chief Minsiter Mamata Banerjee over upcoming presidential election, speculation suggests the Opposition parties are zeroing in on Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar as their presidential candidate.
Lately, senior Congress leader and Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge has consulted with Banerjee and leaders of the DMK, CPI, CPI-M, and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) for putting up a joint Opposition candidate.
While the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has an edge as its National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has 48 per cent votes in the electoral college and it's expected other parties not aligned with the Congress would support the NDA candidate, the Opposition parties are engaged in putting up a united front in the contest.
The Congress and AAP have indicated they would support Pawar, according to reports.
"If Sharad Pawar's name comes up as a candidate for presidential elections, then Maharashtra Congress is with him," said Maharashtra Congress chief Nana Patole, as per The Free Press Journal.
While no statement has come from AAP on the record, sources have anonymously told India Today and FPJ that the party would support Pawar. India Today reported there have been a discussion on the subject between Pawar and AAP leader Sanjay Singh.
The New Indian Express reported that Congress President Sonia Gandhi and Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray are also in favour of Pawar. The paper cited highly placed sources as saying that Kharge recently met Pawar in Mumbai to convey Sonia's message.
"In this meeting, Kharge conveyed Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s message that NCP chief Sharad Pawar should contest the presidential elections as a united candidate of Opposition against the BJP candidate," the paper described the meeting, noting that Pawar has not yet said yes.
Uddhav is also supportive of Pawar and has said that he would approach other parties as well to garner support for him, according to the paper.
It quoted a source as saying, "He [Uddhav] said that Pawar has 50 years of electoral politics experience. He was chief minister of Maharashtra for four times and defence minister and agriculture minister. He played a major role in the development of Maharashtra and India and he deserves such a coveted post at the fag end of his career."
The presidential election is scheduled for July 18. The counting will take place on July 21. The term of President Ram Nath Kovind is ending on July 24.
While the BJP has not announced a candidate, reports say the party has authorised party chief JP Nadda and Union Minister Rajnath Singh to hold talk with NDA members and Opposition parties to arrive at a consensus for a presidential candidate.
Pawar is a seasoned politician who is known to have connections across the political aisle. He also has a longstanding relationship with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and he has earlier said that he was the lone interlocutor between the then-UPA government and Modi when he was the Gujarat Chief Minister.
Currently, Pawar is reportedly the point of contact between the Centre and the Maharashtra government, a coalition of Shiv Sena, Congress, and NCP which he cobbled together outsmarting BJP in 2019.
The Print reported, "Amid a deep chasm between the Modi-led NDA government at the Centre and the Uddhav Thackeray-led Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government in Maharashtra, Pawar has emerged as the lone intermediary who has an open channel of communication with the prime minister, which he uses to the MVA’s political advantage from time to time.
"Modi and Pawar’s relationship has fluctuated between hot and cold, between extreme praise and extreme criticism, according to the changing poll seasons, but their line of communication has always remained open."
Earlier, however, Pawar has ruled out contesting presidential elections. He said last year, "It is absolutely false that I will be a candidate for the Presidential election [in 2022]. I know what will be the result, given the party that has more than 300 MPs. I will not be a candidate for the Presidential election."
(With PTI inputs)