The Telegraph
Saturday , June 10 , 2017

Eye on rivals for President

New Delhi, June 9: The BJP is testing the waters to "win over" converts from Opposition ranks to secure a decisive mandate and have a President of its choice, sources said.

The BJP leadership is working on MPs and MLAs of the Congress, Trinamul Congress, Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party, the Biju Janata Dal and some other parties, the sources said

The BJP-led NDA claims to be ahead of the Opposition in the numbers game in the presidential elections next month but the party wants to stun and demoralise rivals with an unexpected victory margin, the sources said.

"We are hopeful of getting a lot of votes from Opposition ranks. Like in the faction-ridden Samajwadi Party, we are in touch with members opposed to Akhilesh Yadav. Similarly, many leaders from Trinamul are reaching out to us," a senior BJP leader said.

Unlike in the past, the current BJP leadership of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah will resort to the tokenism of reaching out to the Opposition after finalising its candidate but, beneath the surface, there will be an aggressive policy to break the unity of the rivals.

"Do you think there is any possibility of a consensus with some Opposition parties joining hands to put up a candidate?" a BJP leader asked. He then quickly added: "We are more determined. The BJP will defeat the Opposition decisively and have a President who will represent Indian culture and ethos."

The electoral college for the presidential polls comprises MPs of both Houses and MLAs of all states and Union territories. The total strength of the electoral college is 10,98,882 votes. The half-way mark is 5,49,442.

On paper now, the NDA looks short of nearly 18,000 votes. The BJP, however, claims a lead and the support of Opposition parties like the AIADMK and the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS).

"The Congress has assured the support of the AIADMK for us. The DMK has joined the Opposition unity effort and so the AIADMK will come to us by default," a BJP leader said. The AIADMK alone has 5,984 votes.

The BJP has so far not given any indication about its candidate. Party leaders say the nominee will be someone the rivals will find difficult to go against, possibly offering the ruling combine the chance to "win over" leaders from the Opposition camp.

The parliamentary board, the BJP's top decision-making body, is likely to meet on June 15 to discuss the President's election slated for July 20.

The BJP needs support from the Opposition camp also because of the posture adopted by ally Shiv Sena. The Sena continues to push for RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat despite his statements saying he is not interested in the President's post.

Sena spokesperson Sanjay Raut said today his party "doesn't find anyone other than Mohan Bhagwat more capable of fulfilling the Hindu Rashtra dream".

PTI quoted an editorial in Sena mouthpiece Saamna as saying that a "Hindutva rubber stamp" should be installed at the Rashtrapati Bhavan. "So far, rubber stamps with secular credentials resided at the Rashtrapati Bhavan. Now, to resolve the issues of Ram Mandir, uniform civil code and Article 370 of the Constitution, it is required that a Hindutva rubber stamp assume the post of President."

The Sena has broken ranks with the BJP in the past too. In the 2012 election, it had voted for UPA candidate Pranab Mukherjee and before that, for Pratibha Patil.

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