Advani to talk to NDA Chief Ministers, others; Shiv Sena stays away from meeting

Divisions within the National Democratic Alliance over the pros and cons of putting up a fight against the UPA Presidential nominee Pranab Mukherjee forced it to postpone a decision on Sunday.

At the end of a two-hour meeting, held at the residence of NDA working chairperson and senior BJP leader L.K. Advani, it was decided to hold further consultations with the constituents of the alliance, and the Chief Ministers of Tamil Nadu and Odisha who have backed the candidature of the former Lok Sabha Speaker, P.A. Sangma.

The BJP, which determined on Saturday not to let the election go uncontested, failed to convince some constituents, especially the Janata Dal (United). Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is opposed to a contest, just for the sake of it, when the numbers are stacked in favour of Mr. Mukherjee.

BJP’s oldest ally Shiv Sena stayed away from the meeting, triggering speculation that it was unhappy with the manner in which the issue was handled. “Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackerey will take a decision on the issue,” party leader Sanjay Raut said.

NDA convener and JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav told journalists after the meeting: “Various leaders put forth their views… More discussions are required… to arrive at the right decision. “L.K. Advani will talk to the Chief Ministers of the NDA-ruled States and all others. The NDA will meet again some time later to take a decision… Those outside [Delhi] will also be consulted.”

When pressed to clarify whether the NDA’s failure to take a decision reflected differences within the coalition, Mr. Yadav said: “Answers to all your questions are available in my statement.”

Several factors have contributed to the NDA’s dilemma on the Presidential election. An adroit management of the numbers by the UPA last week has left the NDA in wilderness. The chief among them are the reluctance of the former President, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam — the preferred choice of most NDA constituents — to enter the fray, and doubts whether Mr. Sangma (who has been virtually disowned by his own Nationalist Congress Party) will stay in the race.

NDA leaders are not sure whether they can persuade Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee — who has broken ranks with the UPA over her insistence on Mr. Kalam’s candidature — to back their choice.

Having allowed the UPA to seize the initiative, the NDA cannot hope to bargain even for a quid pro quo with the ruling alliance, which will allow it to back Mr. Mukherjee, and expect, in return, the UPA’s support to its candidate for Vice-President.

The BJP and the JD(U) are not on the same page. The BJP sees the election as an opportunity to line up parties such as the AIADMK and the BJD , which are potential allies, for the 2014 general election. But the JD(U) believes a token contest against a veteran like Mr. Mukherjee will serve no political purpose.

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