NEW DELHI: With the Election Commission announcing the presidential election on Thursday, the spotlight is on YSR Congress and Biju Janata Dal as the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance is just short of the halfway mark.
June 29 is the last date for candidates to file papers. Voting is scheduled for July 18 and counting on July 21.
While PM Modi will have the final word on deciding the presidential candidate, support from YSRCP or BJD would pave the way for NDA’s nominee in the race for the country’s top office. Recently, YSRCP chief Jagan Mohan Reddy and Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik had met Modi in Delhi, although it is not clear what transpired during the meeting. The two regional parties have maintained a low profile; both went with BJP in backing Ramnath Kovind in 2017.
Based on the current arithmetic, NDA is around 13,000 votes short and support from either BJD, which has over 31,000 votes in the electoral college, or YSRCP (over 43,000 votes) will ensure smooth sailing for the BJP-led alliance. NDA is estimated to have 5.26 lakh votes out of a possible 10.79 lakh in the electoral college, comprising elected members of the Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha and the state legislatures. The numbers could change after the ongoing Rajya Sabha polls, but probably not enough to change the big picture.
The NDA has the option to renominate Kovind, field vice-president M Venkaiah Naidu, who is seen as a potential candidate or, like last time when it fielded a Dalit face from Patna Raj Bhawan, spring a surprise.
Although BJP’s numbers have significantly increased in the Lok Sabha, its changed equations with the regional parties and reduced strength in several state assemblies have led to its reliance on regional parties such as YSRCP and BJD. The party has severed ties with Shiv Sena, and Akali Dal, while AIADMK members occupy fewer benches in the Tamil Nadu assembly.
The saffron party won the Uttar Pradesh polls this year, but its numbers have reduced. Besides, it has suffered losses in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and also in Madhya Pradesh compared to the numbers it had in the 2017 presidential polls.
But the NDA seems to have an edge, especially because the opposition is yet to come to a common ground on a candidate, who could be a career politician or a distinguished personality. There has been a tug-of-war among the opposition parties with regional parties such as TMC, TRS and AAP insisting on a non-Congress joint front against BJP.
NDA strategists are confident of sailing through as they feel the margin is not insurmountable in the context of this polarised situation and because of the steadfast refusal of regional satraps from allying with the opposition camp.
While the decision on the candidate is formally for the BJP parliamentary board and NDA to take, there is near unanimity that the PM will have the final say in the matter.
While the presidentship is supposed to be a constitutional post, political parties have tried to capitalise on it. The last time, the nomination of Kovind, a Dalit, was done at a time the BJP leadership had launched a countrywide bid to win the Dalit community’s support.