The issue of the candidate for the upcoming Presidential election is heating up and as I write this, two high power emissaries of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh and Urban Development Minister Venkaiah Naidu have completed one round of informal talks with Congress Chief Sonia Gandhi in Delhi. On the other hand, the BJP Party Chief Amit Shah is touring Mumbai and has met Shiv Sena Party Chief Uddhav Thackeray. All these exercises are mainly to avoid election for the supreme position of the Indian Union.
Though many names are making rounds from the BJP side, no one really knows who will finally win the nomination of the party. The Left parties and other regional groups are also not left behind. Sitaram Yechury has apparently taken lead in initiating efforts to forge a non-BJP alliance at the national level to field common candidate. This is with a hope that some dissident factors from within the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) would walk out and help them. Even if the Congress-Left Front fails to win the election, this unity would make a foundation to take on the BJP in the 2019 General Elections.
Against this backdrop of hectic political development, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to make any speculation about the fate of the Presidential election. Going by a sheer numerical arithmetic, the NDA led by the BJP — though having a mammoth majority in the Lok Sabha and at least a dozen states of the Union, including the huge state of Uttar Pradesh— is falling short to win the election on its own strength. This is mainly because the BJP has a meagre presence in many states like Kerala, Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Odisha, Delhi and shortage of seats in Rajya Sabha. This means the BJP would have to keep all its allies with the NDA and also win some votes from other regional parties like Biju Janata Dal, AIADMK and Telangana Rashtra Samiti.
However, the main task is to keep the Shiv Sena in good humour at least till the end of the Presidential election. That seems to be a difficult proposition. It’s not as if the Sena has great strength, however, the strength of 163 MLAs and 21 MPs make a sizable chunk to arm twist the BJP leaders. Therefore, Shah is forced and compelled to come down to Mumbai and call on Shiv Sena Party Chief Uddhav Thackeray at the latter’s Bandra residence. Realising that this is the time when the Sena could dictate terms and conditions, Sena’s second rank leaders have started building pressure by suggesting names for the supreme post. Earlier, RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat’s name was put forth by a Sena leader, Sanjay Raut. However, as Bhagwat himself declined the offer, now the Sena has put forth the name of renowned Agriculture Economist Dr M S Swaminathan for the post.
It is not that there is any love lost between the senior economist and the Sena leadership but it is only to put the BJP leadership in an awkward situation. It is not yet clear if the consent of Dr. Swaminathan was sought before bringing up his name in the race. There is every possibility that the Congress might be thrilled to find his name there. This is because Swaminathan was nominated to the Rajya Sabha by then President Pratibha Patil when the Congress-led UPA was ruling the nation.
The moot question is how Amit Shah, during his meeting with Uddhav, would forge an amicable deal with the Sena to ensure its support to the BJP candidate. Surely, Uddhav would demand his pound of flesh to forge peace with the BJP. What could be the conditions, particularly when the alliance between the two Saffron parties has virtually broken and there is no love lost between the two? The two parties, though sharing the power in Maharashtra and at the Centre, have always been at loggerheads and there has not been a single day when the two have not leveled serious charges against each other in public. There were many occasions when the alliance had almost broken but the peace was bought at the last minute. Not that the Sena is determined to quit the government and sit in the opposition, but it continues to threaten the BJP as the latter is short of 23 seats to enjoy complete majority. Had the Sena left the Government, the BJP would have to bank on outside support from Sharad Pawar’s NCP. The BJP would like to avoid that eventuality mainly because many of the NCP leaders are in the net of corruption charges.
Realising this handicap of the BJP, the Sena would put its conditions. The first and most important condition would be more ministerial berths in the State and the Union Cabinet. As of today, the Sena has 11 members in the state government and only one at the Centre. Apart from increasing the number, the Sena also desires to have more significant portfolios. The Sena has been openly demanding some key portfolios like Home, Revenue and Urban Development for its ministers. In Delhi, the Sena wants Civil Aviation and Banking. It is difficult to believe that Shah is in a position to oblige on this count. Uddhav Thackeray is also in a mood to demand appointments of Sena men on some key corporations of the government like MHADA, MIDC, Pollution Control Board and CIDCO. It is learnt from reliable sources that Devendra Fadnavis is not interested in parting with any of these portfolios.
In such a situation, it is difficult to believe that the Hindutva Brigade would join hands once again. If at all the BJP offers any olive branch to the Sena, it would only be a short-term measure. Sanjay Raut had said last week that there would be tremours in July. True. There are indications that lava is boiling and a volcano may erupt any moment now. The only question is who will be the victim: the BJP or the Sena. Let’s wait till the result of the Presidential election is declared.
The author is a political analyst and former Member of Parliament (RS).