Presidential Election: The Story Behind Yashwant Sinha's Struggling Campaign
With a few more non-NDA parties backing Droupadi Murmu, what next for Yashwant Sinha's presidential campaign?
The Quint DAILY
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The Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) became the latest Opposition entity to announce support for the National Democratic Alliance's (NDA's) presidential candidate Droupadi Murmu. The JMM made this announcement on Thursday, 14 July, through a letter issued by party chief Shibu Soren.
The move is not surprising. Though Sinha was an MP from the JMM's home state Jharkhand, the party has consistently promoted the interests of Adivasis, especially Santhals. Both the Sorens and Droupadi Murmu are Santhals.
This has made the NDA's path even more smooth in the presidential elections against Opposition nominee Yashwant Sinha.
The JMM joins other non-NDA parties to have announced their support for Murmu – the Biju Janata Dal (BJD), Yuvajana Sramika Rythu Congress Party (YSRCP), Telugu Desam Party (TDP), Janata Dal (Secular) (JDS), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), and the Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal). Even Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray had announced his support for Murmu.
As of now, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) remains non-committal on which side it is backing.
The numbers hugely favour Murmu, who may get over 60 percent of the votes in the electoral college.
So, Where Did the Opposition Go Wrong?
The Opposition did the right thing by announcing its candidate before the NDA. But that wasn't enough.
Though the government wasn't assured of a majority, the numbers were in its favour from the beginning and all it needed was the additional support of a strong fence-sitter party like the BJD or the YSRCP.
Therefore the only trick that the Opposition could have come up with was to put up such a candidate who could have done one of two things:
Put the BJP in a delicate spot in which opposing the Opposition's nominee would have come at some political cost.
Ensure the shifting of key BJP allies as well as fence-sitting parties.
Both these purposes would have been served had the Opposition either fielded someone of national eminence or someone whose social or geographical background put the BJP or any of its allies in a difficult position. Or someone who fulfils both these criteria.
For instance, during Atal Bihari Vajpayee's tenure, it was actually Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav who had suggested APJ Abdul Kalam as a presidential candidate.
Kalam's prominence as a nuclear scientist and the BJP's inadequate numbers forced the party to nominate him. Interestingly, the Congress, too, was forced to go along for the same reasons.
Unfortunately for the present Opposition, it couldn't find a candidate who could fulfil any of these criteria. Willingness on the part of any such candidate also may have been a problem.
But the NDA nominated Droupadi Murmu, who may be the first Adivasi and second woman to occupy the highest office in the country.
As a result, it was the Opposition's ranks that got divided as several parties didn't want to be seen to be opposing an Adivasi presidential candidate.
Was Yashwant Sinha the Wrong Choice?
Sinha as a candidate has some advantages but he may not have been an ideal choice.
The fact that they had to choose a former BJP leader was a tacit admission of the hegemonic power the BJP presently has in Indian politics.
And even within the BJP, Sinha was never quite a conscientious objector like a Jaswant Singh or Shanta Kumar, both of whom had spoken out against the 2002 Gujarat riots.
Sinha, on the other hand, remained a Modi supporter until 2014. Being sidelined after that and some disagreements on economic policies were what turned him into a critic. He also became a vocal critic of the government's Kashmir policy later.
However, barring the 'enemy's enemy' logic and a desire to win over some support from dissatisfied elements in the BJP, there didn't seem much political justification for nominating Sinha.
And when the NDA nominated Droupadi Murmu, it became bad optics for the Opposition as it sent the signal that while the government was pushing a positive agenda by nominating an Adivasi woman, the best the Opposition could come up with was a disgruntled former member of the same regime, that too one associated with Delhi's power elite.
So, What Are the Positives for the Opposition?
One positive to emerge is the flexibility of the Congress and its willingness to concede space to other parties. Yashwant Sinha was seen initially as a Trinamool Congress (TMC) nominee and then as someone who was standing based on his independent stature.
At no point was he seen as the Congress' choice. This was clever thinking on the part of the Congress. Now it would win some brownie points for its efforts towards Opposition unity and won't be blamed when Sinha eventually loses.
It is quite likely that the Congress will adopt a similar approach regarding the vice-president's election as well.
It appears that the party has decided to focus on its revival on the ground rather than invest its energies in a symbolic fight in the presidential and vice-presidential elections.
The second positive to emerge for the Opposition in the entire process is the clear shift of the Telangana Rashtra Samithi to the anti-NDA camp. Though this shift had been happening for some time, the presidential election became a platform for TRS chief K Chandrasekhar Rao to openly come out against the NDA.
It is clear that in the run-up to the 2023 Telangana elections, KCR wants to project himself as a leading national voice against the NDA.
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