Ramnath Kovind is set to succeed Pranab Mukherjee as the next President of India as the direct contest between the NDA nominee and Meira Kumar, who has been put up by 17 opposition parties together, promises to be a tame affair. Kovind, who was Governor of Bihar before he entered the fray, is comfortably placed with a number of non-NDA parties declaring support to his candidature, turning the contest a token one.
Thanks to the silent moves and tactics of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah, opposition plans to stage a show of unity ahead of the next Lok Sabha polls has fallen flat. What was shocking that the opposition was caught unawares with the ruling party declaring the candidature of Kovind in the midst of efforts by a party committee to consult all political parties on the Presidential polls. In retrospect, it appears that the Prime Minister utilised the Committee consisting of Rajnath Singh, Arun Jaitley and Venkaiah Naidu for talking to various political parties on the issue of Presidential elections to divert the opposition mind.
It must be borne in mind that the Prime Minister always given to speak on a variety of things, had maintained total silence on the Presidential candidate of the ruling alliance. It is also to the credit of Modi and Shah that they were able to see a united NDA in the matter of the Presidential poll despite the Shiv Sena striking discordant notes and at one time even suggesting the name of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat for the top post. Sena’s meek surrender in a day speaks volumes about the control of dominance of the two top leaders in the ruling alliance.
By first announcing the name of Kovind, the BJP has succeded in political messaging. While the Congress-led opposition followed suit by also announcing a dalit candidate, it is a fact that Sonia Gandhi and her colleagues lost the initiative. What came as a bolt from the blue for Sonia and other opposition leaders was the announcement of the Bihar Chief Minister and JD-U Chief Nitish Kumar to side with Kovind, hailing the choice of the former Bihar governor by the NDA.
A political commentator remarked in a lighter vein that three “dadhiwalas” have succeded in ensuring an emphatic win for Kovind. Modi, Shah as also Nitish Kumar sport beard. Incidently, the RSS too was more than in loop in the key decision. Prime Minister Modi and BJP chief Shah outmanoeuvred the opposition in every department on the key issue and the support they got from Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar was the icing on the cake. Rahul Gandhi, the heir apparent in the Congress, was abroad when all these developments affecting opposition unity occurred, leading to much controversy within as also jibes from the ruling side over the sincerity and commitment of the young leader to his job as party Vice President.
Nitish Kumar’s breaking ranks in the Presidential polls is a cause for concern in the Opposition as Kumar till the other day was strong champion of the opposition joining hands with an apparent aim of fighting Modi unitedly in the next Lok Sabha polls. What has been a matter of worry for Congress and Sonia Gandhi is that their bluff and bluster of a united opposition has fallen apart like a pack of cards with the political somersault by Kumar who was till the other day nursing the ambition of becoming the PM candidate of the opposition in the next Lok Sabha polls.
Though 17 opposition parties have now come together and put up Meira Kumar as their candidate, it is unlikely to be much of a contest as Kovind is comfortably placed. Some powerful regional parties which are not part of the NDA have chosen to side with Kovind in an apparent move to keep the Priime Minister in good humour. It is a fact that sizable section of the opposition is the most harried lot under the Modi dispensation with the Prime Minister perhaps launching the largest actions against his detractors like CBI raids and searches by Income tax.
There are examples galore ranging from Karthi, son of P Chidambaram to Lalu Prasad, the RJD supremo and his family. Government managers emphasise that law is taking its own course whether it is the disproportionate assets case of Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh or the National Herald case involving Sonia and Rahul Gandhi. However, the talk persists that the decisions of the AIADMK, TRS, BJD and some other opposition parties not aligned with either the Congress or the BJP to back Kovind is not just out of love and affection for the Prime Minister.
These regional parties do not want to rub the BJP the wrong way in the Presidential polls and want to earn the goodwill of the Prime Minister. It is no wonder that both the factions of AIADMK which is an orphaned lot after the demise of Jayalalithaa feel Kovind is the right candidate. It must be understood that RSS which has given two Prime Ministers Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Modi, one Deputy Prime Minister L K Advani and a Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan, could now be boasting that it has its hand for the first time in selection of the President.
While the Sangh would formally say it or not, the fact is that the election of Kovind will be a proof of the spread of the saffron influence. Kovind may not be a “swaymamsevak’ in the strict sense of the term, but the low profile and mild mannered NDA candidate has been a ‘saffron volunteer’ for long. Now the opposition may be making the contest a dalit versus dalit affair, but it has squandered the golden opportunity of first strike. If the opposition had announced the name of Meira Kumar before that of the NDA, it would have been a different matter. Modi and Shah have managed in their political messaging despite the fact that candidates of the rival sides are not heavyweights.
It does not require rocket science to understand that the NDA would have its own candidate for the post of the Vice President to succeed Hamid Ansari who is retiring next month after two terms in office. The BJP and its allies have more than sufficient numbers in Parliament to see that its nominee becomes the Vice President, who is also the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha. It is expected that Modi and Shah would choose a loyalist for the key post at a time when the BJPled NDA does not have majority in the Upper House.