Expect The Unexpected From Modi in The Presidential Elections
Modi’s choice for President must feed into his key objective – to maximise the electoral advantage.
Sending the right signal, weighing caste-community options, breaking geographical barriers, appealing to a specific constituency – traditionally, these aspects are carefully examined before picking a presidential candidate. However, this is not the case in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s scheme of things.
As for making the names of the top contenders public, it is too risky a business for the simple reason that no one has a clue, other than the Prime Minister himself and Bharatiya Janata Party President Amit Shah. Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat must have given his inputs too.
Modi’s Unconventional Convention
What is certain, however, is that the NDA’s candidate will bear a distinct Modi stamp. The selection must achieve two objectives – it must convey that Modi is a smart thinker and that he, and he alone, can find the right person to further the Modi vision.
In that sense, it is more about what Modi wants to convey, than what the candidate symbolises. And Modi’s objective is crystal clear – the selection should amplify his core politics of reaching out to the masses, the poor, and the downtrodden. All with the aim of reaping electoral dividends in subsequent elections.
If we apply the yardstick of conventional wisdom now, a presidential candidate must tick the following boxes – the person should represent the poor, belong to a downtrodden community or hail from a backward region.
If the same person can help expand the saffron agenda, well and good. The Sangh Parivar has never had it this good. Absolute power and good traction means there is no pressure to look for something else other than the right wing, nationalist, and Hindutva-type. So, this is yet another chance to say that emphatically.
There is another metric which is being debated upon – the intellectual, technocrat (à la APJ Abdul Kalam) eminent citizen type. However, looking at the political and electoral needs, this is highly unlikely. Some speculate that the ruling party may consider a South Indian candidate. The BJP still has to travel a long way to make significant inroads in the Southern states.
Venkaiah Naidu’s name was making the rounds, but now that the BJP has made him a part of the search committee to find a candidate, he seems to be out of the race. Maharashtra Governor C Vidyasagar Rao’s name also popped up in Delhi’s political circle as one of the possible names.
Will Sushma Swaraj Get The Nod?
BJP veteran LK Advani seems to be a highly logical choice. His potential nomination is pregnant with the powerful symbolism of some sort of “guru dakshina” on Modi’s part. But Advani seems to be out of the race. Some well-wishers like Shatrughan Sinha have been bringing up his name, but not many see this as the likely outcome. Most observers are convinced that the first set of considerations will prevail – the tribal/Dalit/poor/woman metrics.
Jharkhand Governor Draupadi Murmu’s name has been in the reckoning for a long time. Among women contenders, Sushma Swaraj’s name is also being talked about.
Swaraj has the experience, the gravitas, the power of oratory and the persona. So in her case, all the boxes are ticked. She appears to be a suitable choice for the Rashtrapati Bhawan, whose occupant has to do a lot of globetrotting. Her chemistry with Modi has been a matter of debate in the past, but she is now credited with working hard and silently for a very high-profile, jetsetting Modi.
The electoral college numbers are stacked in such a way that it won’t be a challenge for the National Democratic Alliance to get their candidate elected. There is some shortfall, which can be managed by getting smaller parties, like the YSR Congress, on board.
Independents will be on board too, and don’t be surprised if some Members of Parliament and Members of Legislative Assemblies from the opposition camp also vote for the NDA candidate.
There is no whip, so no action can be taken against such crossovers. Despite having comfortable numbers, the BJP has started to consult opposition leaders so as to “look for a consensus”. This has been the convention, so following it is seen as being politically correct.
Expect The Unexpected
The BJP’s best case scenario is to get some non-NDA parties to come along, further isolating the Congress. Remember Nitish Kumar’s comment on the choice for the next President – he said he may support a candidate who has faith in the Constitution. What he meant was that if the NDA doesn't field a rabid Hindutva kind of person, he may consider supporting him. Nitish had supported Pranab Mukherjee in 2012.
The opposition parties know that fighting the Presidential Election is a mere formality, but this has given them an opportunity to sit together, in their otherwise tired and lacklustre performance so far.
Still, the names doing the rounds as the opposition’s presidential candidates range from Manmohan Singh and Sharad Pawar to Sharad Yadav to Gopalkrishna Gandhi. A symbolic fight is good. There's no chance of winning but at least it will help make them a bit active, and may get them talking about the 2019 elections.
As far as Modi’s strategy about the 2019 General Elections is concerned, he seems to be way ahead. The Presidential Election is one more important event for him – it must feed into, and strengthen, his key objective of maximising the electoral advantage. The choice will solely be dictated by this yardstick, but in a manner that is typical of Modi.
There are many more names doing the rounds, but hazarding a guess is too risky. The names discussed here are only to underline the main logic or metrics the PM is going to apply. Modi loves to surprise all stakeholders in public life. Let us be prepared for a name that will surprise, shock or awe us all. My informed guess, therefore, is – expect the unexpected.
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