India president hopeful
Who will it be? Sharad Pawar, Mayawati, Nitish Kumar and Amarinder Singh Image Credit: ANI/AP

Come July 2022 and the most ceremonial office in India (complete with a 500 room palace set upon the summit of the Raisina hill in New Delhi) will be up for grabs. Every senior leader across the spectrum of Indian politics misses a heartbeat at the thought of that stratospheric ascent to the office of the President of India.

Incumbent Ram Nath Kovind will retire in July and his successor will be elected through an indirect election through an electoral college consisting of the elected members of both Houses of Parliament — the elected members of the legislative assemblies of the states and the union territories.

Authoritative sources told Gulf News exclusively that the lobbying for the most coveted job had been in play for a while. Normally the incumbent Vice-President — currently Venkiah Naidu, former Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader — would be a shoo in for an upgrade but, currently that is not totally a given.

Rashtriya Swamsevak Sangh (RSS), the mother ship of the BJP, has a signature method of dealing with power — it keeps all comers and contestants guessing.

Pawar or Mayawati?

To ensure another run at the government in Maharashtra and install a BJP chief minister in alliance with the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), the plum office of President was offered to NCP supremo Sharad Pawar, per sources.

Previously Pawar thought that since Kovind still had a considerable term left, he would prefer to be the father of the unlikely Shiv Sena, Congress and NCP alliance. The Maratha strongman has always and rather publicly dreamt of the office in the corner of South Block — the Prime Minister’s Office — but, now in his 80s, he would gladly settle for the job of prez.

Sources reveal that in the high powered meeting between Uddhav Thackeray, Maharashtra chief minister, K Chandrashekhar Rao, universally known as KCR, the Telangana CM and Pawar — which was held in Mumbai on Saturday — the election of the next president was on top of the menu, alongside savoury Marathi dishes.

How strong a candidate backed by the opposition will be, depends on the outcome of the upcoming five assembly elections, the results of which will be know on March 10.

Mayawati, the chief of the Bahujan Samaj Party, who has pretty much sat out the biggest battle the Uttar Pradesh elections as a massive favour to the BJP would love the return present of being the BJP’s presidential candidate.

Highly placed sources say that Mayawati would be a politically brilliant choice for the BJP — as a woman and the four time Dalit chief minister of UP. It would be a highly symbolic choice — something Modi loves to do, a huge signal to the Dalits and crucially pull her out of the political equation in UP — politically India’s most significant state.

Hugely interesting possibilities

In elevating Kovind — a largely unknown politician — the RSS and Modi sent out multiple messages about their conception of the Hindu Samaj. Kovind — a Dalit — has been a quiet figure.

The most important job that the incumbent Rasthrapati does is administer the oath of office to the Prime Minister and his cabinet. RSS would prefer to have a president who shall swear in the new government (led by BJP) as the general elections are now just two years away.

As the day of Kovind’s retirement nears (unless he gets another term), politicians like Nitish Kumar, Bihar chief minister and chief of the Janata Dal United, currently running a government in alliance with the BJP is also dreaming about the big job.

Kumar has basically taken a hatchet to his own reputation with his switch back to the BJP’s embrace and has leached out most of his political capital. Currently he is embroiled in daily fights with an assertive BJP. Kumar would like nothing better than checking out of 1 Anne Marg (Bihar CM office) in Patna and making a new home in Rasthapati Bhavan.

It is unlikely that a candidate will be elected unopposed as the Congress will viscerally oppose a BJP choice. Amarinder Singh, former Punjab CM, who exited the Congress is also apparently nursing presidential ambitions.

Says a senior BJP leader, “Modi is 71 and came up with the concept of the Margdarshak Mandal for leaders over 75. If he gets elected again in 2024, the BJP will not have a better candidate then President Modi and PM Yogi”.

Hugely interesting possibilities. Watch this space.