Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s soul searching revolves around the idea of Unity in Uniformity. His political and personal instinct veers towards the One Nation, One Election theory, even though the reasons for his assertion are private. However, the emerging epiphany is that governments of the states and the Centre should be chosen simultaneously to ensure that more time is spent on governance than on ballot battles. The storm of debate is yet to gather strength.
However, there is one Indian election, which keeps its date with history once every five years. It is for the President of India. It reflects the collective mandate of all state Assemblies and Parliament, irrespective of the dates of different Assembly polls. 2017 is one such historic year, when Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Manipur and Goa will elect new chief ministers, while the Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha and all the Assemblies together will choose India’s 14th President. President Pranab Mukherjee demits office in July next year. The search for his successor has already begun in the minds if not in the party offices of political leaders. To elect the Vice President, only members of both the Houses will be involved. For the BJP, choosing the 13th Vice President to replace Mohammad Hamid Ansari should not pose a problem since more than half the MPs of the combined strength of Parliament are tinged saffron in different hues.
Last week, as demonetisation flavoured discourse and decibels in Parliament, the real debate in the crucibles of power was around the names of possible candidates for India’s highest constitutional post. None of the political parties, including the ruling BJP, has hinted at potential candidates. But middle-level leaders and workers have started floating their favourites. If the arithmetic of current alliances and the composition of the Electoral College are indications, Modi will need the support of at least two major regional parties for his candidate to win. If the BJP loses all five Assembly elections, Modi will face a humongous challenge in ensuring that his nominee will walk the red carpet of welcome through the portals of Rashtrapati Bhavan. The demonetisation drive on the eve of the state polls is undeniably meant to capture all the constitutional offices. Two scenarios are likely to emerge during the Battle of the Bhavan.
Scenario One: The BJP and its allies win Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand comfortably, but lose other states.
Subsequently, not only will Modi impose his preferred candidate on the party, but he can also mobilise significant support. It will be smooth sailing for the BJP in case others put up a symbolic fight.
Who is likely to be Modi’s nominee? Keeping in view his style of choosing candidates for important posts, the PM will decide on a politician with whom he enjoys good personal rapport and who has kept a distance from BJP’s GenPast. Sheer seniority and commitment to the Sangh ideology entitles 89-year-old L K Advani to be the front-runner. Though he is physically the fittest leader in the party, his age and his uneasy relationship with the PM is likely to play the spoiler. If Advani makes the cut, he will remain in office till he is 95—an uncomfortable idea for Modi who prefers leaders to be below 75.
Another ideologically strong contender is former party president Murli Manohar Joshi, whose name is being advocated by a section of the RSS leadership. He is 82, but his state of health will prevent him from being the primary choice for Raisina Hill. Moreover, he was not part of the BJP faction, which promoted Modi as the prime ministerial candidate in 2014. If both seniors are eliminated from the list, the BJP is left with just two other names—Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan and Uttar Pradesh Governor Ram Naik. The 82-year old Naik began his career as an upper division clerk in Maharashtra’s Accountant General Office. He was associated with the RSS from childhood and is a most loyal karyakarta. He has never been associated with any cabal. Above all, he will never question the constitutional authority of the prime minister.
On the other hand, Mahajan has the relative advantage of age. She is 73 and has been elected to the Lok Sabha for her seventh term. The law graduate is well respected in the Sangh Parivar for her simplicity and loyalty to their ideology. Known as tai (aunt) in social and political circles, the Speaker has shown her political acumen by managing the Lok Sabha adroitly during the last 30 months. If a woman has to be the BJ P’s nominee, Mahajan is perhaps the candidate with maximum chances.
Since Modi is famous for his unpredictability, he is also capable of springing a surprise by naming a dark horse like Om Prakash Kohli, the current governor of his home state Gujarat.
Scenario Two: The BJP loses all the state elections. Then, Modi will have to think of a name acceptable to allies JD(U), AIADMK, TDP as well as Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik. Collectively, they can ensure the victory of this candidate. In which case, the PM will have to bow to consensus, and Advani is likely to be the strongest contender. If all non-BJP parties forge an alliance, they will put up a strong fight against the official candidate, and the outcome is anyone’s guess. However, the possibility of Pranab Mukherjee getting a second term will be brighter since he will get the support of the Congress and a section of the BJP by virtue of his stellar and non-partisan tenure as President.
Family connections did not win Modi the national election in 2014. If he sweeps the Assembly elections in 2017, a member of his true family, the RSS, will be the occupant of the Rashtrapati Bhavan. If India’s pratham sevak plays his cards well, the situation will arise whereby all three top posts of the President, Vice President and Prime Minister is held by RSS swayamsevaks by 2017. What better return gift can Modi give his organisation, which made him what he is today?
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