BJP reached out to the oppn to make a consensus on the prez poll

New Delhi: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Wednesday approached its alliance partners and key opposition leaders to garner their support for the NDA’s presidential candidate, whose name is yet to be decided. Union Defense Minister Rajnath Singh and party president JP Nadda called up leaders of at least 12 parties to build a consensus ahead of the July 18 elections.

A person aware of the developments said that Singh had met Trinamool Congress (TMC) chief and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, Bahujan Samaj Party supremo Mayawati, Biju Janata Dal chief and Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav, Congress leader Spoke to Mallikarjun Kharge. Jharkhand Mukti Morcha chief Shibu Soren and Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar.

Singh also spoke to Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, whose Janata Dal (United) is an ally of the BJP and runs a coalition government with the party in Bihar. “The Defense Minister spoke to all these leaders over the phone,” said the person quoted above, requesting anonymity.

Nadda spoke to Meghalaya Chief Minister and National People’s Party chief Conrad Sangma, National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah and All Jharkhand Students’ Union, Naga People’s Front and some independents, another person privy to the details said.

The NDA is close to a majority in the electoral college for the presidential election – which includes MPs and members of state legislatures – and its candidate is almost certain to win when the results are announced on July 21.

However, at least two opposition parties insisted on the name of their candidate by the BJP, said people aware of the developments. A TMC leader said Banerjee asked Singh to cite a specific name so that the party could give its remarks. The party leader said, “In the opposition meeting (to discuss the possibility of a consensus candidate) Banerjee said she told Singh who could be a better option than [NCP leader] Sharad Pawar, so please consider …” meeting. Pawar has already refused to be the opposition candidate.

Kharge told reporters that he spoke to Singh and sought information about the candidate. He said Singh told him that the prime minister wanted to know his opinion, but he also said that when he asked who the candidate was, he did not get a reply. “If we give non-controversial names, will the government accept it,” Kharge asked.

The BJP’s reach came on a day when several opposition parties, including the Congress, TMC and Samajwadi Party, met in Delhi to deliberate on the election of a candidate. The meeting passed a resolution to name the unanimous candidate for the presidential election.

Banerjee is understood to have suggested the names of Farooq Abdullah and former West Bengal governor Gopal Krishna Gandhi, who unsuccessfully contested the vice-presidential election in 2017, but the BJP is keeping its cards close to its chest.

Asked whether the mystery surrounding the candidate’s choice would affect the reach of the people, a BJP leader said the effort would be to garner support for the NDA’s choice, as was done before the 2017 election. In 2017 too, Singh and then Union minister M Venkaiah Naidu met Congress president Sonia Gandhi to seek the party’s support, but were told that in the absence of a name, the opposition party would not be able to give assurances. BJP candidate Ram Nath Kovind eventually won a massive victory.

Formal notification for the elections will be issued on June 15 and nominations will have to be filed by June 29. The last date for withdrawal of candidature is July 2. President Kovind’s term ends on July 24 and as per the Constitution a new President has to be appointed before his term ends.