BJP floats ‘Brahmin for President’ card with UP in mind
BJP has been on an overdrive to suggest that RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat and Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan, both Brahmins, are frontrunners to succeed President Pranab Mukherjee at Rashtrapati Bhavan
President Pranab Mukherjee will demit office on July 25 and a search for his successor will begin after March 11 when results of the five state elections in Goa, Manipur, Punjab, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh will be out. And sources within BJP have been of late particularly anxious to suggest that RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat and Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan are serious contenders, besides Murli Manohar Joshi, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley—all Brahmins.
While political observers rule out speculation about both Bhagwat and Mahajan as far-fetched, a conspiracy theory suggests that this may have been prompted by a desire to woo the Brahmins in Uttar Pradesh. Political observers interpret the anxiety as indicative of less enthusiasm among the Brahmins in UP for the BJP. Bhagwat in particular could well be like a red rag to other parties, as well as allies.
As of now, the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) is well short of votes in the electoral college, which elects the President. While BJP sources claim that the party needs only 120 more MLAs to get its nominee elected to the Rashtrapati Bhavan, the Opposition scoffs at the figure and points out that if the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) is actually decimated in Punjab and the BJP does not do as well in Uttarakhand, Goa and UP as it expects, the calculation will go awry and that any speculation at this stage is premature.
While Prime Minister Narendra Modi has about three months to pick the right candidate, many names have since popped up. Though many of them are inconsequential, the novelty this time is the inclusion of Bhagwat’s name. And if Bhagwat himself opts out, the frontrunner according to these sources, as of now, is Mahajan.
President Pranab Mukherjee will demit office on July 25 and a search for his successor will begin after March 11 when results of the five state elections will be out. And sources within BJP have been of late particularly anxious to suggest that RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat and Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan are serious contenders, besides Murli Manohar Joshi, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley—all Brahmins.
There are, however, other names doing the rounds. They are: Murli Manohar Joshi, LK Advani, union ministers Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley and Venkaiah Naidu, Uttar Pradesh Governor Ram Naik, Infosys co-founder NR Narayanamurthy and veteran actor Amitabh Bachchan.
Though speculation was rife earlier that Mukherjee might get a second term as a consensus candidate if the BJP fails to muster the numbers, the possibility has been ruled out by the Government itself.
The message was conveyed cleverly through the media when Union Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma disclosed without any prompting that he had conveyed to the PMO that he would happily vacate his duplex bungalow on 10, Rajaji Marg in Lutyen’s Delhi for ‘Pranabda’.
Some observers also believe that authentic or not, the so-called suicide note of former Arunachal Pradesh chief minister Kalikho Pul was leaked partly to prepare the ground for denying Mukherjee a second term. While the purported suicide note is said to have mentioned several judges of the Supreme Court, serving and retired, and also political leaders, Mukherjee’s name is also said to have figured in the controversial suicide note.
Bachchan came under a cloud when his name figured in the list of 415-odd Indians in the leaked documents of the Panamanian firm Mossack Fonseca unravelled by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), the Indian Express and Süddeutsche Zeitung last year.
Though the Big B subsequently denied any connection with the offshore companies, the IT Department and Enforcement Directorate are still investigating the matter. BJP sources rule out Narayanamurthy, a non-political face like late Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, and not an RSS choice.
While Prime Minister Narendra Modi has about three months to pick the right candidate for President, many names have since popped up. Though many of them are inconsequential, the novelty this time is the inclusion of Bhagwat’s name. And if Bhagwat himself opts out, the frontrunner according to these sources, as of now, is Mahajan.
Others like Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar and Samajwadi Party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav, who too covet the post, have since lost much of their political clout; Pawar, after his party’s dismal performance in the recent civic polls in Maharashtra, and Yadav losing influence within the SP to son Akhilesh.
The President’s role in 2019, when Modi is expected to seek a second term in office, will be crucial. As such candidature of Advani, Joshi or Swaraj, with whom Modi shares a trust deficit, is ruled out, unless there is heavy pressure from the RSS.
A strong lobby within and outside the BJP wishes to see Jaitley out of North Block and replaced by power minister Piyush Goyal. The four likely scenarios are: Jaitley stays on as FM, or goes to Rashtrapati Bhavan (he is very popular in the political spectrum cutting across party lines and can emerge as a consensus candidate), goes to the external affairs ministry (incumbent Swaraj gets a gubernatorial post), and or he replaces defence minister Manohar Parikkar, who is sent to Goa as CM if the BJP wins the state.
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