|Sushma Swaraj, Nitin Gadkari
New Delhi, May 2: BJP president Nitin Gadkari stepped in as a firefighter today after Sushma Swaraj’s assertions on the presidential election angered NDA leaders, particularly the Janata Dal (United).
Gadkari said the NDA’s candidates for the posts of the President and the Vice-President would be finalised only after each ally was spoken to, first individually and later collectively.
However, Dal (United) president Sharad Yadav and the Shiv Sena’s floor leader in the Rajya Sabha, Sanjay Raut, said the BJP had not yet informed them about any such meeting, and neither had its leaders “formally or informally” spoken to them about the presidential poll.
Yadav had yesterday expressed disappointment with Sushma, the Lok Sabha Opposition leader, for “unilaterally” announcing the BJP’s stand. The matter, he had said, was not discussed at any NDA forum, nor did the Dal (United) share Sushma’s views. “Whatever Sushma has said is the BJP’s opinion,” Yadav, the NDA convener, had added.
The statement had come a day after Sushma rejected the idea of Vice-President Hamid Ansari and Union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee as presidential candidates: Ansari, because he lacked the “requisite stature” and Mukherjee for being a “hardcore Congressman”.
Sushma had also said that if the Samajwadi Party, along with the Trinamul Congress and the NCP, proposed the nomination of a candidate like A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, the BJP could consider the suggestion “positively”.
Dal (United) sources said they were miffed with Sushma for “running down” Ansari. “He is a respected name from eastern Uttar Pradesh and comes from a well-known family of freedom fighters. A disparaging remark like Sushma’s would not go down well among Muslims in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar,” a source said.
Shortly after Yadav articulated his objections, Sushma spoke to him and maintained that she had “only” spoken of evolving a “broad unity” among the Opposition.
Later, Yadav spoke to this correspondent. “There is so much speculation in the media that we feel there is no need to fuel it further. In any case, my party is not in a position to get its candidate elected, nor are we in a position to dictate names. There are so many more critical issues the country is faced with now,” he said.
Asked if party colleague and Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar had spoken to Ansari yesterday, as a section of the media had claimed, Yadav said: “Till last night he had not. If he called him this morning, I wouldn’t know.”
Akali Dal leader and Punjab deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal had also said that no NDA meeting had been held on the issue.
Today, Gadkari stressed the consensus theme. Agencies quoted him as saying at the Indore Press Club that the regional parties had “gained a lot of importance” and their leaders would be consulted. He added that the BJP would explore the prospects of achieving a consensus on an Opposition candidate with the parties that are part of the UPA. But he did not name them.
The BJP chief tried to clarify Sushma’s comments about Kalam. He claimed Kalam was among “some good names” who could be the next occupant of the Rashtrapati Bhavan. “However, it does not mean that a final decision has been taken within the BJP,” Gadkari was quoted as saying.
The BJP president emphasised that the President should be “independent, impartial and one who brought laurels to the country”. He added that the question of whether he was “political” or “non-political” was not “important”.
Within the BJP, too, there were murmurs about Sushma’s pronouncements. “Are we in a position, even as an NDA coalition, to get a candidate elected that our leaders have to set out parameters like she did? It’s putting the cart before the horse,” a party official said.