The Telegraph
Monday , June 19 , 2017

Sena refuses 'blind support' on President

Posters rooting for LK Advani as President have appeared around Parliament House, put up by Ashok Tanwar who claims to be a  Gujjar leader. The BJP said he was not associated with the party. Picture by Pheroze L.Vincent

New Delhi, June 18: Shiv Sena leader Uddhav Thackeray today rejected BJP chief Amit Shah's suggestion to let Narendra Modi decide the National Democratic Alliance's choice for the next President, asserting that his party needed to know the name of the candidate before committing its support.

"Uddhavji told Amit Shahji that though we are with the NDA and have faith in the BJP, we cannot blindly support anyone," Sena spokesperson and Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Raut told The Telegraph.

"He told him we need to know the name of the candidate before declaring our support," Raut added.

The snub from the BJP's oldest ally - although relations between the two have been strained of late - comes at a time Prime Minister Modi's party is keeping its choice a closely guarded secret.

At the same time it has been trying to persuade all the allies to vote for a nominee decided by Modi.

The BJP has nearly 48 per cent of the votes in the electoral college, which means a win is all but assured in the presidential election scheduled for July 17.

Shah had met Uddhav along with Maharashtra's BJP chief minister Devendra Fadnavis but the 75-minute closed-door meeting at Matoshree, the Sena chief's residence in Mumbai, didn't appear to have achieved the purpose.

Raut, the Sena spokesperson, said Uddhav wanted to know the name of the person the BJP planned to field but Shah told him it would be decided by Modi.

"How can you seek support without giving us the name of the person we have to support? Don't the allies have the right to know the name of the person they would elect as the next President?" Raut said, adding that the Sena's stand on the election had not changed.

The Sena had earlier threatened to take an independent stand on the election and pitched for Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat. "At the meeting, Uddhavji told Amit Shahji that the BJP should consider the name of Bhagwatji and spell out if they have any other name," Raut told this newspaper.

The Sena has also suggested the name of M.S. Swaminathan, considered the pioneer of the Green Revolution, for the country's top constitutional post.

BJP sources said the party's parliamentary board, its highest decision-making body, was likely to meet on Tuesday to finalise the name of the candidate. Party leaders said only two persons - Modi and Shah - were in the know but had not shared their choice with any other leader. The parliamentary board, they added, could authorise the Prime Minister to decide the candidate.

The three-member BJP panel authorised to hold discussions with leaders of other parties have been meeting Opposition leaders without citing any names. Like the Sena, the Opposition parties too have dubbed the BJP's effort to build a consensus without proposing any names as mere tokenism.

One of the panel members today spoke to Samajwadi Party leaders Ramgopal Yadav and Naresh Agrawal and met Lok Janshakti Party chief and Union minister Ramvilas Paswan.

While Paswan said he would support Modi's choice, the Samajwadi leaders asked the BJP to opt for a politician as their candidate, not an apolitical person or someone from the RSS.

Another panel member, Arun Jaitley, spoke to Trinamul Congress and Biju Janata Dal leaders.

Sources said the BJP wants to complete the formalities, declare the name of the presidential candidate and file the nomination papers before Modi leaves for his US trip on June 24.

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