New Delhi, June 16: The BJP realises that the contest for President will be “notional” given the surge of support for Pranab Mukherjee but a section led by L.K. Advani believes it should still take a shot at one.
The BJP core group that met this evening at party president Nitin Gadkari’s residence officially decided to take a call on Sunday after conferring with NDA allies. Sources, however, said the BJP would not put up its nominee.
It is learnt that the leaders have not approved of their Rajya Sabha MP Ram Jethmalani’s announcement to join the fray on the ground that finance minister Mukherjee has “done nothing” to bring back black money stashed in foreign banks.
| (From left) Advani, Jayalalithaa, Mamata and Sangma
Sources indicated the BJP’s inclination was to back Purno A. Sangma, who was proposed as a joint candidate of the AIADMK and the BJD, and if Mamata Banerjee is willing, persuade her to endorse him as part of a larger non-UPA front.
The BJP’s stand to contest the election was fuelled by three considerations:
The UPA’s “cavalier” attitude of approaching BJP leaders “well after” Sonia Gandhi declared Mukherjee’s candidacy that sources said “betrayed a lack of courtesy”;
The need to signal to the party rank and file that the BJP would not willingly back the Congress in any situation in the manner of Mulayam Singh Yadav;
Use the opportunity to look for new friends and enlarge the NDA’s coalition space.
Stung by the Congress’s “belated” outreach — the Prime Minister called Advani, Sushma Swaraj, Gadkari and Arun Jaitley after Sonia announced Mukherjee’s nomination — sources said Advani told Manmohan Singh his call had come a “bit late in the day”.
BJP sources recalled when A.B. Vajpayee was Prime Minister, he informed Sonia about the NDA’s decision to put up A.P.J. Abdul Kalam before going public.
Sources said Advani told Singh even if there was a contest, it would neither undermine democracy nor the office of the President because presidential elections had been contested in the past.
BJP sources said their leaders indicated to AIADMK chief Jayalalithaa last night itself that they would back Sangma. Advani, Sushma and Ananth Kumar took the decision. Gadkari was away in Mumbai and Arun Jaitley is out of the country.
The BJP also urged Jayalalithaa to use the opportunity to bring Mamata on board. “The BJP is keen to see that Mamata does not remain isolated,” a source said.
Rather than the BJP taking the initiative for fear that its “anti-minority” image might put off Mamata, sources said it made political sense for Jayalalithaa and Naveen Patnaik to approach her.
“If she agrees, we will not go to the extent of claiming that the NDA has found new friends. But at least it has opened a window of opportunity to enlarge our coalition space to induct three powerful chief ministers. We don’t mind riding on their backs because this is not a prestige issue for us,” a BJP source said.
Bengal panchayat minister Subrata Mukherjee said Mamata would decide, when asked if Trinamul would back Sangma. “We have nothing to say on the party's choice of a nominee for President. Mamata will alone take a call,” he said.
Jayalalithaa was apparently “happy” with the BJP for reciprocating a gesture she had made earlier this week to Advani. When he called on her in Chennai, it had appeared that Kalam could emerge as a broad non-UPA consensus candidate after Mulayam threw his weight behind him with Mamata. In that event, Advani told Jayalalithaa she should consider asking Sangma to withdraw. She was reportedly open to the idea.
The other argument adduced in today’s core group meeting was that a contest, even if a token one, would send a “positive signal to the rank and file”.
“If we do not, what is the difference between us and Mulayam? We have no personal issues with Mukherjee. But in a democracy let the lines remain delineated between the ruling coalition and the Opposition,” a source said.
However, the BJP’s script might run aground if the Janata Dal (U) sticks to its position of endorsing Mukherjee. Sources said if the key ally queered the BJP’s desire to contest, it might be forced to go for a rethink. “We don’t wish to project the NDA as a divided house,” a source said.
“Mukherjee has… been a capable leader and impeccable parliamentarian all through. He is the most deserving candidate who should be supported in his venture,” Dal (U) general secretary Shivanand Tiwary said in Patna today.
Although Tiwary said he was voicing a “personal view”, Dal (U) sources said he reflected Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar’s “wish” in particular and an overwhelming opinion in the party in general.
BJD chief Patnaik, too, reiterated support for Sangma saying he was the “fittest candidate” for the post.