The next President

With a consensus unlikely, the opposition has no more than a small window of opportunity

June 09, 2017 12:05 am | Updated 12:05 am IST

Presidential contests in India are usually tame and predictable, and 2017 does not promise to be any different. To date, the election of V.V. Giri over Neelam Sanjiva Reddy in 1969 remains the only notable exception to the long list of humdrum presidential elections: Prime Minister Indira Gandhi called for a “conscience vote” just before the election, and a sizeable number of Congress parliamentarians and legislators voted against the “official” candidate, Reddy, in favour of Giri. Before and after that, however, the favourites have carried the day, with opposition-sponsored candidates putting up no more than a symbolic fight to prove no more than a political point. At present, the numbers are stacked against the opposition for the July 17 election . The Bharatiya Janata Party, with its regular allies and new-found friends, should be able to see any non-controversial candidate through. Parties such as the Telangana Rashtra Samithi and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, which do not see the BJP as a political threat, have indicated their readiness to back a BJP-sponsored candidate. The Biju Janata Dal too might not be opposed to taking such a course, although the BJP has emerged as its main rival in Odisha. Unless the ruling party scares away all its supporting parties by projecting a polarising candidate, the opposition cannot expect to put up anything but a token fight.

Much might revolve around the BJP’s choice of candidate. There have been instances when allies have switched sides to vote for or against a particular candidate. Regional considerations have weighed with some parties, as in 2007 when the Shiv Sena voted for Pratibha Patil against Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, the candidate fielded by its ally, the BJP. The Sena and the Akalis are not entirely happy with the BJP, but they would need a strong reason to break ranks. That can come either in the form of an unacceptable BJP candidate or a really appealing opposition candidate. Ideally, the Congress would like to wait for the BJP to announce its candidate before revealing its own. But the process of reaching out to other parties outside its core alliance has already begun. The Congress can count on, besides current allies such as the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the Janata Dal (United), the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Samajwadi Party, the Left parties and the Trinamool Congress. But just as in the case of the BJP, an alliance can be built or broken on the basis of the Congress’s choice of candidate. The party might have in mind some eminent people not directly involved in politics in order to appeal to a broader political spectrum. What is certain is that there will be no consensus candidate. For the BJP to not get its person of choice through as the next President, 2017 will have to throw up an unexpected twist or a complete surprise.

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