After Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar pitched a second term for President Pranab Mukherjee, the Congress today indicated that it will support such a move if the President agrees to it. This evening Congress chief Sonia Gandhi met West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee to discuss fielding a common opposition candidate to take on the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance’s nominee in the presidential election to be held in July.
Nitish Kumar has suggested that the ruling BJP initiate talks with the opposition and build a consensus of all parties to nominate President Mukherjee for a second term. President Mukherjee, a former Congressman, has reportedly made it clear that he will consider a second term only if the government nominates him.
But the BJP, sources say, is keen on fielding one of its own for President, though no names have emerged yet. Along with its allies and now the avowed support of the YSR Congress of Andhra Pradesh leader Jaganmohan Reddy, the BJP needs just a little more help to ensure its candidate gets the 51 per cent votes needed to become the next President.
In 2002, the Congress wanted a second term for President KR Narayanan, but he had refused to contest after the then BJP-led government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee said it would not nominate him. In 2007, the Congress government at the centre nixed a second term for APJ Abdul Kalam, because it wanted someone more political.
“Pranab Mukherjee, comes from the pedigree of a thought process and an ideology that has been a center-point of this country from its formation until today, and would be so in the future,” Congress’ Randeep Surjewala said adding, “Post of President and Vice President are concerned are intrinsic to our democratic setup, for not only is our President the commander of the armed forces, he is also the protector of our constitution. It is also the role of the President and Vice President, to counsel the government when it loses its way. So bereft of political partisanship, you need… an individual who will be able to uphold the highest principles as enshrined in the constitution.”
Suggesting a second term for President Mukherjee, Nitish Kumar yesterday said, “The president represents the entire country and its people and as such the ruling party at the Centre should take an initiative to seek a consensus on selection of candidate for the top constitutional post after holding talks with all opposition parties,” Mr Kumar said.
As she landed in Delhi, Mamata Banerjee said, “That is for the ruling party to decide. I will not decide on their behalf… At this stage, I cannot say or comment anything.” Ms Banerjee has had a long association with President Mukherjee and shares a good rapport with him. She is said to also favour nominating former diplomat and Mahatama Gandhi’s grandson Gopalkrishna Gandhi.
Sonia Gandhi has met opposition leaders like Nitish Kumar and the Left’s Sitaram Yechury to discuss possible candidates, among them vice president Hamid Ansari and Mr Gandhi. They know they are unlikely to swing a win, but want to challenge the government. It is also seen as an exercise to test the ground for a big alliance of opposition parties to take on the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeks a second term.
“If the ruling party does not go for consensus, it is the opposition’s duty to put up a joint candidate for the president’s post,” Nitish Kumar said.