Raisina Hills Modis Next Supplicant

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Would you love to stay for five years, at least, in a 130 hectare, 340 room house surrounded by lavish gardens and other niceties Who would not? Not that the resident has too many powers, but does it matter? So now the battle is on for the next President of India

YOGESH VAJPEYI

YOGESH VAJPEYI

Yogesh Vajpeyi is a senior journalist with over 40 years of experience of working with leading newspapers like National Herald, The Times of India, The Indian Express, The Telegraph and The New Indian Express. He is currently writing in various journals and teaching journalism.

Who will occupy the Rashtrapati Bhavan next? The titillating search for an answer will engage politicians in the corridors of power in New Delhi’s Raisina Hills till the Election Commission announces the schedule for Presidential elections. Till then the media and the people have field days to guess, speculate and conjecture as political managers of the ruling and opposition parties try out their permutations and combinations in a polity where even bit players have some room to strike bargains. The only certainty about this game of fluctuating loyalties and fortunes is that the new incumbent will be stepping into Rashtrapati Bhavan before President Pranab Mukherjee demits office on July 24.

Presidential elections in India have always mirrored realpolitik at its best and worst. A subtle blend of ideology and opportunism in a game of chance where there are no set rules of engagement, where players keep their cards close to their chests and wait for the other side to blink first, only to capitalise on a mistake or to call a bluff.

One player’s trump can be another’s dummy. Sometimes the entire exercise is reduced to a process of selection by elimination. The race to the Rashtrapati Bhavan is strewn with instances of wild card entries taking away the cake and eating it too. (Read Box)

Same Game

The 15th presidential elections are going to be no different. So far, neither the ruling dispensation nor the scattered opposition parties have shown their cards. The battle lines, too, are yet to be drawn. The only certainty is that an all party consensus is unlikely. There will be a contest—straight or multi-cornered.

The political landscape in which this presidential election is being held is radically different from the one that existed during the 2012 elections. After its stunning victory in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance was down the hill. The Congress itself was reeling under multiple scams and some of the erstwhile UPA allies had either deserted it or were in the process.

This time, the ruling dispensation is headed by an ascendant BJP under Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The party’s string of victories in state assembly elections post its 2014 general elections sweep, has emboldened it and today, its dependence on its allies in the National Democratic Alliance is pure lip service.

In the rival camp, the Congress seems to have failed to arrest its continued decline. It is still the biggest single opposition party but it has lost the status of the Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha and questions are already being asked about its current leadership’s capacity to stem the rot within the party.

The left, that had provided in the past an aura of respectability and a semblance of ideological orientation to the non-Congress, non-BJP parties, which occasionally came together under the euphemistic brand of social justice to break up again, today stands significantly marginalised and reduced to a dog that barks but cannot bite. Sans the Left parties, the others have been reduced to single-leader driven outfits with no cohesive political purpose or agenda. Some of them, such as the AIADMK in the South and the Samajwadi Party in the north are undergoing inner churnings, which puts a question mark over the ability of their elected representatives voting en bloc.

Arithmetic Issues

In India, the President is elected by an electoral college comprising elected members of the Lok Sabha, the Rajya Sabha, and the State Legislative Assemblies. This works out to 776 MPs and 4,114 MLAs. The votes are then calculated vide a special formula under the Presidential and Vice-Presidential Election Rules, 1974.

The value of an MP’s vote is 708, while that of an MLA’s varies from 208 in a big state like UP to a mere seven in a small state like Sikkim.

Calculated on the basis of this complex formula, the BJP and its NDA partners have 48.64 per cent of presidential vote, while the Congress, the left parties, the Trinamool Congress and other anti-BJP outfits account for only 35.47 per cent.

A group of six political parties —AIADMK (Tamil Nadu), BJD (Odisha), TRS (Telangana), YSRCP (Andhra Pradesh), AAP (Delhi & Punjab) and INLD (Haryana) — cumulatively holds a 13 per cent vote-share. There are numerous other small parties which are difficult to fit into these three broad groups — NDA, the Congress-spearheaded opposition and the unattached big parties —accounting for a little less than 3 per cent of the vote share.

Their votes could depend on electoral management of rival candidates, but they are generally with the winning side.

Pure arithmetic thus favours the BJP candidate. In Andhra Pradesh Jaganmohan Reddy’s YSRCP has already declared its support to the NDA and Telangana’s TRS has also indicated that it could go with the NDA if the candidate was right. Even the faction-ridden AIADMK may find it more convenient to bed with the BJP because of domestic political compulsions in Tamil Nadu, where its rival DMK remains a Congress ally.

However, the BJP will have to watch which way its maverick ally Shiv Sena goes. In the crucial contest between UPA candidate Pratibha Patil and BJP stalwart Bhairon Singh Shekhawat during the 2007 presidential elections, the Shiva Sena had changed sides to support Patil on the ground that she was a Maharashtrian. Even now the Shiv Sena rarely leaves an opportunity to pinprick ‘ally’ BJP.

The early phase of every presidential election in the past has always witnessed the name game, where rivals float trial balloons to test the waters even as they indulge in behind the scenes activities.

With the political landscape as well as arithmetic in its favour, this is where the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah duo can afford to keep quiet and wait for the opposition to blink first.

Advantage Modi-Shah

An array of names from BJP veteran L K Advani, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat to Jharkhand Governor Draupadi Murmu and former Chief Justice of India, Justice P Sathasivam have been floating around in media speculations. The Modi-Shah duo can finally go for any one of them or bring in a dark horse at the last moment, as it has done while nominating the chief ministers of Maharashtra, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh.

Faced with the studied silence of the ruling opposition, the Congress and other anti-BJP parties are in a quandary. While insisting that they will name their candidate after the NDA reveals its cards, they have heartedly floating the idea of building a consensus on a second term for the current resident at Raisina Hills, Pranab Mukherjee. This is a near impossibility. Mukherjee himself has indicated his disinclination to contest and the BJP establishment will like to have their own sway in the Rashtrapati Bhawan. Other names doing the rounds include NCP supremo Sharad Pawar, senior JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav, former West Bengal governor Gopal Krishna Gandhi and jurist Fali Nariman.

Whether the Congress lobby can unite and confront the BJP-dominated NDA with a real challenge remains in the realm of speculation. It is survival and not ideology that is the basis of the call for a united front against the saffron menace. The project was originally conceived by the Left to prop up the short-lived United Front Government in 1996 to keep an emergent BJP out of power. It not only failed to last, but created conditions that resulted in the BJP grabbing power at the centre and now dominating the political landscape of the country.

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