In terms of ceremony, it is the top job in India — Rasthrapati (President) of India. The race to occupy the 500 room presidential palace, Rasthrapati Bhawan, home to the President of the world’s largest democracy, is well and truly on.
As previously reported by me in SWAT analysis, incumbent Ram Nath Kovind was not offered a second term by the government.
The elections for the President of India are less than a month away. While the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has the numbers to ensure their choice is the President, it is keeping mum on its choice, having authorised several leaders to reach out to the opposition and ensure a consensus.
The opposition, true to its form, is currently fighting over who gets to hold even a meeting to put up a joint candidate and give the BJP a real run for its money.
Sonia Gandhi, in a deft move, set the cat among the pigeons by proposing the name of frenemy Sharad Pawar, 81, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief and Congress partner in the Maha Vikas Aghari (MVK) government in Maharashtra.
Congress vs Trinamool
Pawar, though reluctant to throw in his hat, has always had his sights on the South Block, where the Prime Minister’s Office is housed and has always tenderly nursed his PM ambitions. In an interview with me, he once said that North India will not like a Maratha PM.
Gandhi has proposed his name because of two reasons. Pawar, one of the canniest leaders in Indian politics, has legendary persuasion abilities, which would ensure that the fractious opposition leaders would rally around if he is to emerge as the consensus candidate.
Pawar also has the political capital and personal relationships assiduously cultivated with leaders across the political spectrum.
Narendra Modi once called Pawar his “guru” (teacher) in politics. But, with general elections only two years away, the BJP will want to ensure a very safe pair of hands in Rasthrapati Bhavan and Pawar is occasionally even a puzzle to himself.
Sonia Gandhi’s shrewd move saw immediate pushback from Mamata Banerjee, who in a political flex, called a meeting on Tuesday to decide on the opposition candidate for the president. While she has invited Gandhi and even the Left parties, the tone and tenor of her letter upset the Congress, India’s principal opposition party.
While, publicly hobnobbing with Pawar, even flying to Mumbai to meet him, Banerjee sotto voce is pushing the candidature of Yashwant Sinha, formerly of the BJP, who joined the TMC (Trinamool Congress) recently. Banerjee knows she can’t publicly knock Pawar if he wants to contest.
A surprise candidate?
Arvind Kejriwal, Delhi CM and Aam Aadmi Party chief has also assured Pawar of support for his presidential bid. Uddav Thackeraym Maharashtra chief minister, is also publicly committed to supporting Pawar.
Yet Pawar, as is his wont, publicly burst the balloon of his candidature, saying that he wasn’t interested. He might regain interest if more leaders of the opposition publicly pledge support to his cause.
Nitish Kumar, Bihar CM and Janata Dal United chief, who has always outsize political ambitions has found that neither ally BJP nor the opposition has any interest in making him the President. Kumar had run a low key campaign to suss out interest.
Finding none, he publicly said he was not interested in the job with an additional proviso that he would decide support of his party on the merits of the candidate.
So the candidate chosen by ally BJP does not automatically get Kumar's seal of approval. Kumar has recently gone out of his way to unsettle BJP with moves on a caste census. As usual he has the BJP guessing.
The opposition is likely to force a contest but doesn’t have the will and the discipline to make its candidate win with its near permanent squabbles. The BJP is likely to spring a surprise and ensure its candidate wins.
Politics is interesting again. Come 2024, Modi is aiming for a record third term as PM and it will be critical for the BJP - who will swear the PM in.