Who will be the next President? The shortlist so far

As the race is about to officially start for the First Citizen of the country, a quick look at the possible contenders

Photo courtesy: Rashtrapati Bhavan
Photo courtesy: Rashtrapati Bhavan

Sebastian PT

For the first time, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) finds itself in a position to get its own candidate to the Rashtrapati Bhavan after its votes in the electoral college went up substantially following the massive Uttar Pradesh victory. Out of the total strength of the electoral college being 10,98,882 votes, the ruling National Democratic Alliance is short of just 25,000-odd votes.

Though the perception largely is that President APJ Abdul Kalam was the candidate of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) Government led by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, that might not be entirely accurate. Kalam’s name was originally suggested by Samajwadi party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav and with the BJP not having the numbers, Prime Minister Vajpayee cleverly decided to back Kalam—a name with which a larger consensus could be easily formed.

So, this time around, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is in a better position to achieve what his illustrious predecessor from BJP, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, couldn’t—getting his own man or woman as the next President of India. But, with Modi—in his typical style—keeping all the cards close to his chest, and no official candidates named by either the ruling or Opposition alliances, it may be an apt time to look at some of the possible contenders for the election to be held on July 17.

Second term for President Mukherjee?

While no President has held the office more than once except for the country’s first President Rajendra Prasad, there’s still speculation on whether President Pranab Mukherjee could get another chance to hold the esteemed office. While the Opposition parties led by the Congress will obviously not be opposed to the choice, what seems to be going in favour of the 81-year-old incumbent is that he has had a good working relationship with PM Modi. A veteran administrator and politician, President Mukherjee, did not seem to hold back when the Modi government wanted President Rule to be imposed in Arunachal Pradesh or Uttarakhand.

However, what goes against him is perhaps his age and him having been a Congressman most of his life. The prevailing reasoning is that the BJP wouldn’t want to miss out on its very first opportunity to get its own ideologue as the First Citizen.

Draupadi Murmu

The 58-year-old incumbent Jharkhand Governor is the leading contender, as of now. A simple, tribal woman hailing from Odisha, Murmu is said to be having Modi’s strong backing. And, her choice plays out well politically too as she would then be the first President from a tribal community and this would play out well in all the states having substantial tribal population and especially in Odisha where the BJP is hoping to make major inroads in the next Assembly polls.

Also, a President without a domineering personality is perhaps what Modi would ideally want.

The Many Others

The dice has been rolling and the names of some ‘outsiders’ that have been popping up include Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan, Infosys founder Narayana Murthy and former Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal.

While Bachchan is close to Modi, him being named in the Panama Papers may go against him. The 89-year-old Badal, on the other hand, is being touted as a possible NDA consensus candidate but the chances look slim for him.

Ram Naik

There have been names of other octogenarians from the BJP/Sangh camp that have been doing the rounds. In fact, former Petroleum Minister and current Uttar Pradesh Governor Ram Naik, was being speculated as a contender from earlier on. The 83-year-old veteran, who has been with the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) since his childhood and has a fairly clean image as a politician, made a controversial statement as Governor that the “Ram Temple should be built as soon as possible”. Perhaps that statement may provide him the push to Rashtrapati Bhavan.

Of course, there are those whispers of some of Modi’s senior colleagues being dropped from the next Cabinet reshuffle—expected soon—and one of them could be elevated to the President’s office.

The Opposition Candidate

Before the recent elections to the five states—Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Manipur and Goa, the stakes were loaded in favour of the Opposition parties in getting a candidate unitedly supported by them as the next President. But, that changed after the BJP’s sweep in UP and Uttarakhand.

Worse, though falling short of a majority in both Goa and Manipur, the BJP is accused of using unscrupulous methods to form governments in both these states. The same strategy is expected to be used for the Presidential polls too with the Opposition left watching helplessly.

Nevertheless, the talk has been of putting up a very respectable candidate with the names of two of Mahatma Gandhi’s grandsons doing the rounds: former West Bengal Governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi and Rajmohan Gandhi.

Apparently, if veteran politician Sharad Pawar—who has friends across the political spectrum—would have been willing to contest, there would have been an interesting fight in the cards. However, the Maratha leader is said to be not keen on contesting.

Of course, the BJP and the Opposition leaders may put up some other surprise candidates at the last moment, but there is one important contender that has can’t be written off completely, yet.

LK Advani

The 89-year-old veteran who is credited to have built the BJP and could never become the prime minister was expected to get his party’s nomination for the Presidential race. But, that apparently stayed put for Advani and the other ‘Margdarshak Mandal’ member Murli Manohar Joshi with the CBI slamming cases against them on the Babri mosque demolition case. Advani has himself said that he isn’t in the race. But, does the case really stop his chances?

There are still speculations that the RSS wants to reward him for his ‘lifetime service’ and may veto his name even if PM Modi is opposed to his mentor becoming the President. Apparently, Modi was keen on his ministerial colleague Manoj Sinha becoming Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister but the RSS had insisted on putting Yogi Adityanath in the mantle. So, would Advani be a surprise candidate?

All these speculations should end in some days when the parties will announce their candidates.

The byline was updated on June 14 at 10:55 AM.

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Published: 13 Jun 2017, 8:14 PM