VENKATESH KESARI | 5 FEBRUARY, 2017

Race for President of India Warms Up: Manmohan Singh A Contender?


NEW DELHI: It is not being talked of, except in whispers, at the moment but the election for the President of India will gain momentum immediately after this spate of Assembly elections is over. Uttar Pradesh, thus, becomes important as it will give a fillip to the victor insofar as determining the next incumbent of Rashtrapati Bhawan is concerned.

President Pranab Mukhjerjee is willing and able for another term in office. But the political grapevine seems to be spelling an end to his term in office this July, as the Congress party that appointed him not very keen to field him yet again. And the BJP with whom the President has been working preferring to have his own man of woman as the President of India.

Various names have been circulated, and rejected by the political grapevine that bases its responses on talk in the corridors of power. Former Deputy PM L.K.Advani was a name in discussion a while ago, but no longer. Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan remains in the circulation,if the choice settles on a woman President by the ruling party.

A new name has cropped up in Congress circles, that of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. And if the elections in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab do not go the BJP way, then there are sections within the Congress who hope to get a regional backing for the old doctor who has served the party well. He has good relations with most of the ruling regional parties in the state, has remained non-controversial, and has a good standing outside the political world as well. Those mentioning his name point out that Singh could well emerged as an Opposition candidate for the post of President.

Giving him some competition in the grapevine is Nationalist Congress party leader Sharad Pawar, a die hard politician who till a few years ago would not even have looked at this post. However, now health issues and age seem to make him a hopeful, and like Singh he is another politician with excellent equations with most parties across the country. His list includes the BJP, or at least a section of it, but he will have to rely on the Opposition to field him for President.

The BJP, without a win in UP, will find the going tough given its poor equations with ally Shiv Sena in Maharashtra, and the unpredictability of Telegu Desam in Andhra Pradesh. It is unlikely, sources said, that Prime Minister Narendra Modi will get a yes for a candidate seen as hard Hindutva and without UP and for that matter Punjab behind him, might have to settle for a compromise insofas as the allies and other regional parties are concerned.

It is early days yet, but the elections are the precursor for what will in all likelihood emerge as a major battle between the BJP and the Opposition parties. It is unlikely that the Opposition will easily support a BJP candidate, with the Congress seemingly determined to field a consensus candidate for the post. The views of all regional parties---including Trinamool Congress, Janata Dal(U), the Tamil Nadu parties, Samajwadi party, BSP that was recently being praised by Rahul Gandhi at a joint press conference with Akhilesh Yadav, as well as TRS, Aam Aadmi party and others---will be taken and a common consensus for a Presidential candidate sought.

Singh’s name has thus cropped up as a possible. As PM he has had good equations with most of the regional political parties, and is seen by most of them as a “gentleman”. However, he is at this stage just a name with the power play for the post of President expected to gather momentum well after the new governments are in place.

Significantly, Vice President Hamid Ansari and President Pranab Mukherjee are out of the race. So are hopefuls like the former Lt Governor of Delhi Najeeb Jung who had hoped to make it with the blessings of PM Modi, but clearly these hopes are belied and Jung is out of the reckoning.

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