While the RSS wants BJP to field a ‘swayamsevak‘, the Opposition has mulled fielding former West Bengal governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi.
Archis Mohan analyses the strategies at play behind fielding candidates for the next President of India.
The electoral college numbers for the presidential polls are stacked against the Opposition, with a top Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader even claiming that his party’s candidate would win by over 115,000 votes.
The BJP, however, has an opportunity to cause more cracks in Opposition unity and win the election by a bigger margin, if it decides to field someone like Jharkhand Governor Droupadi Murmu or Union minister Sushma Swaraj.
On the contrary, nominating a ‘swaymsevak‘ or a ‘pracharak‘ at the insistence of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) could help the Opposition come together in a rare show of unity in the last three years.
With barely a month to go for the presidential polls, the architects of Opposition unity are awaiting the BJP to lay open its cards before they declare their common candidate.
The Opposition is compelled to play a waiting game, for some of its potential constituents could break away if the BJP fields a suitable candidate. For example, Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has conveyed to Communist Party of India (Marxist) chief Sitaram Yechury that his party, the Biju Janata Dal, would support the BJP candidate if it fields Murmu.
The Opposition has mulled fielding former West Bengal governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi. Patnaik and Gandhi were contemporaries in college and continue to be good friends.
However, Patnaik has indicated that his party voting against Murmu could hurt it politically.
Murmu is a tribal who hails from Odisha. The 58-year-old was a clerk in the Odisha government before joining politics and was a minister in the Patnaik-led Biju Janata Dal-BJP coalition government from 2000 to 2004.
Similarly, the Janata Dal (United) and even the Samajwadi Party are unlikely to vote against the BJP candidate if the party were to field External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj.
According to sources, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who is also the JD (U) chief, as well as former party chief Sharad Yadav have indicated that they would not like to vote against “old associate” Swaraj. The assessment in the Opposition ranks is that even the SP would balk at voting against Swaraj, who had started her career as a socialist and had later joined the BJP.
However, the RSS has indicated to the BJP that it would want a ‘swayamsevak‘ to be the candidate. Neither Murmu nor Swaraj is from the RSS.
This is where the Opposition hopes to make the presidential election into a symbolic ‘Godse versus Gandhi’ battle, by fielding Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson against an RSS ‘swayamsevak’.