Nationalist Congress Party president and Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar's comments on Monday for an “agreed” Presidential candidate has set the ball rolling for evolving a consensus, with the Congress agreeing that the selection should be done through “consultation and consensus.”
The term of President Pratibha Devisingh Patil ends on July 24.
So far neither the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance nor the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance has initiated any formal discussion for a consensus candidate. With the Vice-President's post also falling vacant by August, the move will involve give-and-take between the two major political alliances.
Speaking to journalists here, Mr. Pawar said that with the kind of numbers the UPA or the NDA had [in Parliament], there should be an “agreed” candidate and for this the concerned leadership should start a high-level dialogue process. Clearly, he meant that the allies and smaller parties should be kept in the loop for selection of a candidate.
He said he favoured an “agreed” candidate, not a “non-political” one as had been reported in the media.
Congress Minister Kapil Sibal agreed it was a “big issue” and added that “everyone has the right to opinion but we feel it shouldn't be discussed because we do not want to make it controversial.”
The Samajwadi Party is credited with taking an initiative in the matter, with its new Rajya Sabha member Kiranmoy Nanda raising the issue with Trinamool Congress leader and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee when he made a ‘courtesy call' on her in Kolkata last week.
Mr. Nanda, who was a Minister in the previous Left Front government in West Bengal before he merged his West Bengal Socialist Party with the Samajwadi Party, reportedly discussed the alignment for the Presidential elections. The last day for filing the nomination is May 24.
Sources in the Samajwadi Party said if there was consensus on the name of the former President, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, then the party might go with it. But if there was no agreement on his candidature, then efforts would be made to look for a candidate acceptable to parties. Mr. Kalam, it is clear, will not contest if there is no agreement on his name.
After its huge victory in Uttar Pradesh recently, the Samajwadi Party gets a sizeable number of votes in the Electoral College that elects the President and, together with other UPA allies, it can make a substantial difference in deciding who will be the next President.
Other parties that will make a difference include the Bahujan Samaj Party, the AIADMK and the Biju Janata Dal. The Samajwadi Party and the BSP presently lend outside support to the UPA government.
For a while, the name of the former Lok Sabha Speaker and NCP member, P.A. Sangma, was doing the rounds as a potential candidate, which was refuted by Mr. Pawar. He said: “With our 16 MPs that would be unrealistic, and we do realistic politics.”