The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) will meet today to discuss the Presidential elections and decide on its strategy.
In Chennai on Thursday, BJP leader LK Advani met Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa and, he said, discussed all possible names including that of NCP leader PA Sangma, who threw his hat into the ring sometime ago and APJ Abdul Kalam
, whose name was suggested by Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee and the Samajwadi Party's Mulayam Singh Yadav on Wednesday.
Mr Advani also said after his 45-minute meeting with Ms Jayalalithaa that the UPA had handled the Presidential election very clumsily. "I have never seen any earlier Government handling an important election like the Presidential election so clumsily and in such a manner as to make its position to go worse day by day. But as far as we are concerned, we are conscious of the fact that the Congress party and the UPA Government is not able to create a consensus on the issue of President even within its own camp," Mr Advani said. Ms Jayalalithaa agreed that "events of Wednesday will show that the entire exercise was botched up very badly by the UPA," and noted that "no one has come out with a firm announcement on candidates."
The AIADMK chief would not say where she stood on the presidential elections, but the tenor and cordiality of her meeting with Mr Advani, coming after months of the BJP assiduously wooing her party, did suggest a political coordination between the two now and possibly in the run-up to the 2014 general elections.
Ms Jayalalithaa has already endorsed Mr Sangma's candidacy as the first potential tribal President of the country; the BJP is playing its cards close to its chest and has said it will reveal them only once the UPA has named its nominee. But BJP sources do say top leaders believe that Dr Kalam would be a most suitable candidate. Dr Kalam's name was first suggested some months ago by the BJP's Sushma Swaraj.
Resurrecting the name of Dr Kalam for a second stint as President of India was the doosra that Mamata and Mulayam bowled on Wednesday in their flurry of googlies. They were clearly counting on support from the NDA. But that support might need to be built as the JD(U), a major partner in the NDA, is said to be less sanguine about the former President's candidacy just yet as it is not sure whether such a second stint will be a healthy precedent. The party said it would want the NDA to take a joint decision. JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav is the NDA convenor.
PTI quoted JD(U) spokesperson Shivanand Tiwari as saying, "Let the Congress first decide, Mamata Banerjee is part of UPA alliance, Mulayam Singh Yadav's party is part of UPA and right now this controversy is raging in the UPA fold...Let the UPA settle it first, let Sonia Gandhi formally announce a name, and then we will take a view."
After their canny inclusion of Dr Kalam in their list of three, Ms Banerjee and Mr Yadav reportedly rang up the former President, who has so far made clear that he would be willing for a second stint only if there is no contest. After his name was proposed on Wednesday Dr Kalam is said to be watching developments closely, but has offered no comment.
The main thrust of the Mamata-Mulayam joint announcement was their not-so-subtle suggestion that the UPA government needs a change in leadership. This they did by including on their wishlist the name of Dr Manmohan Singh for President, suggesting that allies were losing faith in him as Prime Minister. The name that did not figure was that of Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee
, who has been considered a front runner for the post. The Congress on Thursday firmly ruled out any change of guard, saying that it could not "afford to spare Dr Manmohan Singh as Prime Minister", adding that "he will remain the Prime Minister till 2014".
Ms Banerjee participates in the UPA government and Mr Yadav has so far been a staunch supporter from outside. Together they also command a substantial 11 per cent of the electoral college that will elect the next President. That 11% with the NDA's 28% will need only a little help from non-UPA, non-NDA parties to get Dr Kalam into Rashtrapati Bhawan if the NDA decides to support him. THIS IS HOW NUMBERS ADD UP:
If the Trinamool Congress (4.37% votes), Samajwadi Party (6%) and Mayawati's BSP support the UPA, the ruling combine will get 5,71,644 votes in its kitty. That will ensure that the UPA will have 52 per cent, a majority, of the overall votes. But if Ms Banerjee decides to go against the UPA candidate, UPA's vote share will drop to 5,25,719 votes at 48 per cent, shy of a majority.
If the SP and the TMC join hands with the NDA to back Dr Kalam, they have a combined 38.63% votes in the electoral college. The UPA without the TMC is 37.63%.
Non-NDA, non-UPA parties, including the SP make up 24% of the college. Smaller parties have 6% share.
The presidential election places at par the votes of all MPs with those of all elected members of state legislatures - so regional parties count for a lot. The electoral college for the presidential poll is 4896, constituting 776 Members of Parliament and 4120 Members of Legislative Assemblies, including those of Delhi and Puducherry. The total value of votes is 10,98,882 with that of MLAs being 5,49,474 and that of MPs being 5,49,408. Nominated members of Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha and state Assemblies are not entitled to vote.