Nitish Kumar (right) greets Jairam Ramesh in Patna. (PTI)
New Delhi, June 17: The BJP’s plans to keep the NDA intact and prospect for new allies by contesting the presidential election came unstuck after the Janata Dal (United) insisted on supporting Pranab Mukherjee and not Purno A. Sangma.
The other glitches in the BJP’s belated desire to go for a contest were Mamata Banerjee’s refusal so far to budge from backing A.P.J. Abdul Kalam.
But sections of the BJP, keen on eventually bringing in Mamata, Jayalalithaa and Naveen Patnaik into the NDA “parivar”, asked senior leader L.K. Advani to “keep working” on the Bengal chief minister and coax her to support Sangma.
The NDA that met this morning at Advani’s residence deferred its decision. Dal (U) president Sharad Yadav, who is also the coalition’s convener, told reporters that Advani would consult the BJP as well as NDA chief ministers Nitish Kumar and Parkash Singh Badal.
“More discussions are required to arrive at the right decision,” said Yadav. Another meeting is likely to take place early next week.
In Patna, sources said Bihar chief minister Nitish also conveyed to the BJP “politely but firmly” that his party favoured “nothing else than consensus” on Mukherjee.
Compulsions of governance and NDA’s internal politics are said to be steering Nitish. The chief minister has been seeking special category status for Bihar from the Centre. He is also believed to be wary of the rise of Narendra Modi, particularly after the BJP started projecting the Gujarat chief minister as a national leader.
Nitish today met Jairam Ramesh in Patna and reminded the Union minister of a letter the chief minister had written to the Prime Minister on the special status.
BJP and NDA sources said the political imperative at this juncture was to keep the coalition intact and not give the impression that the NDA was a divided house, “ripe for the UPA to encroach upon”.
Sources said a hint of discord would not only enable the Congress to grandstand — especially after the UPA roped in the Samajwadi Party, BSP and the Telangana Rashtra Samiti to back Mukherjee —but also trigger speculation about the durability of the Dal (U)’s long-standing alliance with the BJP.
The absence of the Shiv Sena from today’s consultations fed rumours of the NDA working at odds. Sena sources, however, claimed that their representative and Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Raut was “preoccupied” with a scheduled programme of which the BJP was informed in advance.
“I will emphasise that the Sena will not do anything contrary to the NDA,” a Sena source said. ( )
In 2007, the Sena ditched the BJP’s presidential candidate, Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, and voted Pratibha Patil because of the “aamchi Marathi (we are Marathi-speaking)” sentiment.
Akali Dal sources too iterated it was “important” to keep the NDA united.
Not everyone in the BJP was persuaded by this argument. A Dal (U) source said: “Why pick us for toeing a contrarian line? The BJP is not speaking in one voice.”
BJP sources contended that they had two compulsions. One, “pressure” from the rank and file to explain why the party should rubber-stamp Mukherjee when, as finance minister, he had contributed “substantially” to the “economic mess” and inflation that the BJP railed against day after day.
“We are about to launch an agitation against price rise and corruption. Can we urge our cadres to take to the streets and face lathis while our leaders cheer and ratify Mukherjee as the President?” a source asked.
Two, the “uncertainty” over the decisions that Mamata, Jayalalithaa and Patnaik might eventually take, despite the last two still backing Sangma. “What if Sangma himself pulls out or Jayalalithaa and Patnaik abandon him?” a source asked.
In such a scenario, the BJP, said sources, could be left “high and dry”.