It will not speak on presidential election till NDA takes a formal view

Following adverse reaction from some of its allies over the comments made by Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj on the presidential poll, the BJP swung into damage-control mode on Wednesday and decided not to speak on the subject till the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) took a formal view.

The BJP's unilateral announcement that neither of the Congress' preferences — Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Vice-President Hamid Ansari — is acceptable to it has not gone down well with the Janata Dal (United) and the Akali Dal.

The JD(U) is particularly upset at Ms. Swaraj's comments that Mr. Ansari did not have the “stature” for the job of President. Its president Sharad Yadav, who is also the NDA convener, called on Ms. Swaraj at the Parliament House and discussed the issue.

The JD(U) reportedly conveyed to the BJP that Ms. Swaraj's comments had put it in an awkward position as it has substantial support of minorities in Bihar.

Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Lalu Prasad, having backed Mr. Ansari, has further added to the JD(U)'s discomfiture.

Acknowledging the fissures in the NDA over the BJP's announcement, BJP president Nitin Gadkari told journalists in Indore that he would speak to NDA leaders, including the Bihar Chief Minister, to clear any misunderstanding on the coalition's approach to the presidential and vice-presidential polls.

“Before finalising the names of the candidates for President and Vice-President, talks will be held with NDA leaders individually as well as collectively. Talks will also be held with small parties as the regional parties have assumed a lot of importance today,” Mr. Gadkari said. The possibility of reaching consensus with some parties, now part of the UPA, would also be explored.

On Ms. Swaraj's statement that the BJP was ready to back the former President, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, if parties such as the Samajwadi Party proposed his name, Mr. Gadkari said she had only mentioned that Mr. Kalam was one of the good candidates. “However, it does not mean that a final decision has been taken within the BJP.”

Mr. Gadkari said the Congress should have initiated a discussion with the BJP on the presidential candidate. He, however, made it clear that there could be no discussion with the Congress if it wanted to have consensus on its nominees for President and Vice-President.

Congress spokesperson Renuka Chaudhary said her party would hold talks with the BJP to build consensus on a presidential candidate, but said the party was “not afraid of contest.” Asked about Ms. Swaraj's comment that Mr. Ansari lacked stature, she said: “That is unfortunate. The BJP has already spoken on it. Speaking about it is not dignified.” If somebody was serving as Vice-President, “he has already got that stature.”

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