Sharad Pawar for President? NCP Says He'll Decide After Seeing Numbers

Left decides to attend Mamata Banerjee's meeting after Sharad Pawar pushes for opposition unity

Sharad Pawar for President? NCP Says He'll Decide After Seeing Numbers

Former union minister Sharad Pawar is seen as key figure in opposition unity efforts.

Mumbai and New Delhi:

Amid speculation that former union minister Sharad Pawar may be the opposition's consensus candidate in the election for President of India, his party has said that Mr Pawar will take a decision "only if the opposition parties have the numbers for a victory".  

The comments came on the eve of a meeting of the opposition convened by West Bengal Mamata Banerjee in Delhi on June 15 to discuss a joint strategy for next month's presidential polls. Ms Banerjee met Mr Pawar in Delhi on Tuesday.  

In Mumbai, Chhagan Bhujbal, senior leader of the Nationalist Congress Party, said, "No doubt, if Pawar saheb becomes President of India, every Marathi person's chest will swell with pride. But the question is: Do we have the required numbers?" 

Mr Pawar, meanwhile, also met Left leaders Sitaram Yechury and D Raja, heads of the CPM and CPI respectively, in Delhi. Mr Raja later said Sharad Pawar did not seem enthused by the idea of becoming a candidate, "Our understanding is that he is not keen. He said he has many political commitments." 

Significantly, Mr Raja also said that Left parties will attend Mamata Banerjee's June 15 meeting. The Left and Trinamool Congress are sworn enemies particularly in West Bengal. But Mr Raja said, "We are keen on unity of opposition parties, so we will go." 

In Mumbai, Chhagan Bhujbal said Mr Pawar's name is being suggested by Arvind Kejriwal of Aam Aadmi Party, Mamata Banerjee of Trinamool Congress, and Congress President Sonia Gandhi, "which makes us happy". "But he has not lost any election in his life. So, if the required numbers are there, he will take a decision after discussions with senior leaders of our party," added Mr Bhujbal, who is a minister in the Maharashtra coalition government of NCP, Shiv Sena and Congress. 

President Ram Nath Kovind's term ends on July 24. Election for the post will be held on July 18 and counting, if needed, will be held three days later. 

The ruling coalition led by BJP does not have the numbers for a sure-shot victory.  

In that light, the June 15 meeting will see attendance by the largest opposition party Congress, too, which has deputed senior leaders Mallikarjuna Kharge, Jairam Ramesh and Randeep Singh Surjewala. This appears to be a thaw in the cold war between Mr Banerjee and the Congress.

The presidential poll is based on an electoral college comprising votes of MLAs and MPs. Vote value of each MLA depends on the population of the state and the number of assembly seats. Total strength of the electoral college, thus, is 10,86,431. A candidate with more than 50 per cent votes wins. 

The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) is 13,000 votes short. 

In 2017, too, the NDA did not have the required numbers, but it got support from Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS), YSR Congress and Biju Janata Dal, for Mr Kovind against Congress-led opposition's candidate Meira Kumar. 

This time, Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekhar Rao of the TRS is part of the efforts to gather opposition forces against BJP.

As for Mr Pawar's role, irrespective of candidature, he is seen as an important figure for unity among opposition parties. He was the creator of Maharashtra's ruling coalition, bringing together ideologically opposed parties to thwart the BJP's bid for power. 

NCP leader Bhujbal asserted that Mr Pawar would not like to "sit at one place" by becoming President or Governor. "He does not like protocol much. He likes meeting people in the villages, sitting with farmers in their fields."