Consensus likely on Presidential candidate

NEW DELHI March 29. The compulsions of the rival political formations to avoid a contest for the post of President have, if anything, increased after the recent Assembly elections. None of them, the BJP and its allies, on the one hand, and the Congress and the rest of the non-BJP Opposition, on the other, has a safe margin in the electoral college, which chooses the holder of the highest office. They will, thus, tend to strive for a consensus on the Presidential candidate to avert a situation in which one side or the other acquires the stamp of defeat and finds itself in a disadvantageous position for the next Lok Sabha elections.

According to rough estimates, the Congress, the Left parties and others that have sided with them, have a slight majority in the electoral college, comprising the elected members of the two Houses of Parliament and the State Assemblies (with the value of the vote in the second category varying according to the population of the States). But since the election is held through proportional representation, with the electors having the right to indicate second preferences, there is the risk of the narrow lead getting neutralised because of the play of the complicated processes.

The BJP and its allies in the National Democratic Alliance have an edge in the two Houses of Parliament, as was evident from the recent vote on POTO. As against that, the Congress, which is in power in 13 States, and the Left parties have a big lead in the Assemblies. If there was any doubt about this, it disappeared after the recent Assembly elections. The BJP's morale touched a new low after the series of reverses, culminating in its humiliation in the Delhi municipal corporation polls. This is certain to weaken its bargaining position in the moves for a consensus. Significantly, no one in the BJP camp now talks of the "Vajpayee as President'' scenario. K.R. Narayanan is due to complete his tenure by the end of July. The election process normally begins in June and, as a result, the political parties should be applying their mind to the choice of candidates soon. The Vice-President, Krishan Kant's term, too, is due to expire soon after. The NDA is in a position to get its candidate elected on the strength of its majority in the two Houses of Parliament, the electoral college for this post. In the search for candidates, the two posts may be treated as one package, for the purpose of give-and-take.

So far, the names of candidates figure only in informal conversation in political corridors. For the first time since the first President, Rajendra Prasad, was elected twice, the name of Mr. Narayanan is being mentioned seriously for a second term. The controversy over his health has weakened now, and the support of the Congress and the Left parties for him could be taken for granted. Then there is the tradition of the Vice-President's elevation to the Presidency — observed in all but three cases in the past. Both Mr. Narayanan and Mr. Kant are of the Nehruvian mould. In the first case, this was evident from his public utterances as President. Mr. Kant had been active in the Congress — for a while, as a member of the Socialist forum, along with Chandra Shekhar and Mohan Dharia, the leading members of the party then — but cast his lot with the Janata Party after the Emergency. He led campaigns against criminalisation of politics and for the promotion of scientific temper during and after the Nehru era. Another name, Karan Singh, former Union Minister and former Sadr-e-Riyasat of Jammu and Kashmir, now in the Congress, has been doing the rounds. Those commending his candidature draw attention to his plus points — among others, that he represents a blend of modernity and tradition.

For the Vice-President's post, Najma Heptullah is mentioned on the strength of her performance as the Deputy Chairperson of the Rajya Sabha, apart from the point that her choice would send a positive signal to the minorities and women. The Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister, Farooq Abdullah, figures far more seriously in the BJP calculations than is publicly known. Another BJP preference — L.M. Singhvi, now a member of the Rajya Sabha and a former High Commissioner in the United Kingdom.

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