NDA divided, BJP says Presidential race still open

A two-hour-long NDA meet to take a call on its Presidential choice failed to reach a consensus amid rift within its ranks.

Updated: Jun 17, 2012, 21:08 PM IST

Zeenews Bureau

New Delhi: A two-hour-long NDA meet, held at the residence of senior BJP leader LK Advani on Sunday, to take a call on its Presidential choice failed to reach a consensus amid rift within its ranks.

The rift centered on whether or not to pitch a candidate against UPA’s choice and Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee for the President’s post.

Most NDA constituents including the BJP are believed to be not in favour of allowing Mukherjee a walkover in the Presidential race as they do not want to be seen as supporting a Congress candidate, even if a loss is imminent, sources say.

The BJP is said to have been keen on supporting the candidature of PA Sangma for the post of Presidency.

A senior BJP leader is also reported to have spoken to Sangma over his candidature. It was during the BJP core group meeting on Saturday that Sangma’s name figured.

Former Lok Sabha speaker and NCP leader Sangma today refused to quit the race despite appeals from his leader Sharad Pawar.

Meanwhile, the JD(U) and the SAD are believed to have disfavoured pitching a candidate against Pranab Mukherjee.

They argue that there is no strong purpose served by contesting against Mukherjee, a tall leader with vast experience in government and Parliament, and more so when the UPA has a clear edge in the Electoral College.

Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pranab Mukherjee called up JD(U) leader Nitish Kumar seeking support for the UPA candidate.

Miffed with the BJP’s choice (Sangma), the party’s oldest ideological ally Shiv Sena kept away from the meeting.

Shiv Sena, which is in favour of bringing an opposition candidate, is strongly baiting for former president APJ Abdul Kalam as a Presidential choice, though he is unlikely to enter the fray.

In 2007, the Sena went against the BJP and voted for Congress candidate Pratibha Patil because she is from Maharashtra.

"Various leaders put forth their views in detail. More discussions are required in this regard to arrive at the right decision,” said NDA convenor and JD(U) chief Sharad Yadav after the meeting.

"LK Advani will talk to Chief Ministers of NDA-ruled states. NDA will meet sometime later again to take before taking a call on the issue," he added.

Rejecting speculation about differences within the NDA over the Presidential poll, BJP spokesperson Shahnawaz Hussain said the poll was still open as it has not been decided yet as to who will be the next President of the country.

"The Presidential poll has just started. No one has filed the nomination papers... UPA has only announced its candidate and UPA has made Pranab Mukherjee as its candidate. It is not yet locked. It is open. Who will be the next President is not yet decided...BJP and NDA are holding serious discussions on this," Hussain said.

Dismissing reports of cracks in the NDA, he said, "NDA is united, together and speaks in one voice," he said, claiming that "Shiv Sena is also fully with NDA and not much should be read in its absence at the NDA meeting today".

Ahead of the NDA meeting, the BJP core group also met here to chalk out its strategy on the Presidential poll.

There was earlier talk of the BJP-led NDA backing the veteran Congress man, who shares an excellent equation with opposition leaders.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had on Friday telephoned Leaders of Opposition in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley, respectively, as well as LK Advani to seek support for Mukherjee’s candidature.

The BJP, with the 2014 Lok Sabha election in mind, is trying to win over both Mamata Banerjee, whose ties with the UPA are strained, and YSR Congress founder Jaganmohan Reddy, the emerging force in Andhra Pradesh.

The Left parties will meet on Thursday to take a final call on the Presidential battle, said general secretary Prakash Karat of the Communist Party of India-Marxist.

As of now, Mukherjee is far ahead of everyone in the race. Even if Sangma contests with NDA support, Mukherjee is set to garner nearly half of all votes.

The Presidential Electoral College is made up of MPs and members of state Assemblies.

(With Agency inputs)