- NCP president Sharad Pawar is Maharashtra's ex-Chief Minister
- Shiv Sena says that RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat remains its first choice
- Sena has voted for the Congress' nominee the last two times
Mr Pawar's name has also figured as a likely consensus candidate in talks that opposition parties like the Left, Congress and Nitish Kumar's Janata Dal (United) are now holding to challenge the nominee of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance or NDA for President.
Mr Raut said if a broad consensus can build around Mr Pawar's name, then Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray can join the discussions. The Shiv Sena leader said his party's first choice remains Mohan Bhagwat, chief of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the BJP's ideological mentor. But Mr Bhagwat has made it clear that he is not in the race and that RSS rules preclude him from running for that office.
The Shiv Sena and the BJP have not been on the best of terms in recent days, but Mr Thackeray had attended a dinner hosted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi for NDA leaders in Delhi earlier this month and said that his party would support the BJP's candidate for President. That is not the normal for the Sena, which voted for the Congress' nominees for President the last two times, opposing the NDA of which it is a part.
The NCP is yet to react. It had said last week that its 76-year-old chief, a former Defence Minister and Maharashtra Chief Minister, will not stand for President. The buzz around his name comes days after Mr Pawar received the country's second highest civilian award, the Padma Vibhushan. The award had led to speculation that the BJP was scripting a new closeness with Mr Pawar as a back-up plan for if the Shiv Sena pulled out of their partnership in Maharashtra, plunging the Devendra Fadnavis government in a minority.
The government is just short of halfway in the college that elects the President and its nominee will win with a little help of parties like the AIADMK and TRS. The opposition's effort to field a common candidate is seen as move to test the feasibillty of building a big alliance of regional parties and the Congress to take on the BJP in the 2019 national election. They also do not want to give the government a walkover.
A second term for President Mukherjee has been discussed, but he has reportedly indicated that he would only be interested if Prime Minister Narendra Modi agrees to re-nominate him and all parties back him.