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Raisina Whispers
Raisina Whispers – Presidential poll special

Raisina Whispers – Presidential poll special

Varaahamihira, Jul 02, 2017

Presidential polls are round the corner, and speculation is rife about NDA’s candidate. As always, top cabinet ministers are the first to be discussed. Union Minister Venkaiah Naidu denied he was in the race in his famous rhyming style. At a press conference recently he said he is happy being Usha - Pathy (Husband of Usha) than being Rashtrapati or Upa - Rashtrapati! However, he continued to be harangued by reporters on this count. They wouldn’t lose an opportunity to ask him when he was filing his nomination. Many believe Venkaiah with long experience in the RajyaSabha and good relations with few opposition leaders would be ideal for RashtrapatiBhavan or even the Vice President’s post. But all this came to an end with the announcement of a three member committee to talk to the Opposition on the Presidential candidate. The committee comprises senior Cabinet members Jaitley, Rajnath and Venkaiah himself, a clear indication that he can’t be in contention for the top job! Atleast one reporter was heard telling Venkaiah, “I have been praying everyday that you don’t go to RashtrapatiBhavan!” A reference to the fact that I&B minister Venkaiah is seen as more accommodative of media in a regime where many of his cabinet colleagues keep reporters at an arm’s distance.

SushmaSwaraj has resumed full time duties as External Affairs Ministers (EAM) after her kidney transplant operation a few weeks back. She impressed many with her legendary oratory skills at her annual press conference, boldly articulating India’s foreign policy position on tricky topics such as Pakistan, China, Trump and Climate Change. She too is seen as a strong contender for NDA’s Presidential candidate, and some media even reported her name as a frontrunner. Close to the RSS, the senior most female face in the cabinet and close to many world leaders as EAM, Sushma has a lot going for her. But after her mentor L.K.Advani’s public appearance in a Lucknow court in relation to a 25 year old Babri demolition case, many fear her prospects may not be too bright either. Advani and his colleague in the MargdarshakMandal, MM Joshi, with whom he appeared in court have been aspirants of the President’s post. It is no secret that Advani has very strained relations with the current regime. Sushma, who was asked on her presidential prospects, at a recent event said, “You are asking me about a matter related to internal affairs, I am the external affairs minister of this country”.

SumitraMahajan has been seen as a leader with an unblemished past and long standing parliamentary experience. She is also someone who as Speaker has had to bear many a taunt from the Opposition about being too lenient on the treasury benches, helping to fulfil their Legislative and Political agenda. This is a burden, sources say, she is not too keen to carry on for long. While it is no secret that she is close to the current regime, many are wondering whether this would be enough for her to be rewarded with a presidential nomination. If she does make it, the biggest concern for the Government then would be who to replace her with? That possibility and a long pending cabinet reshuffle continue to raise elevation hopes of many in the BJP.

If the Government’s recent emphasis on caste equations are any indicator, then that could play a major role in its decision of a Presidential Candidate. The party would want the widest possible social base in the run up to 2019 LokSabha (LS) polls. Jharkhand Governor DraupadiMurmu if nominated, would be the first ST President of India. She is from Orissa, a state that BJP is very keenly focused on and goes to the polls along with the L.S. KariyaMunda, former Deputy Speaker in LS is another prominent ST face. Known for his simple living and RSS roots, he may also make the cut. ThawarchandGehlot a cabinet minister and a long time parliamentary board member could also be in contention. He is a dalit and has had a fairly noncontroversial, if somewhat low key career.

While NDA ally Shiv Sena announced that it wants MS Swaminathan to be made the alliance’s nominee, it brought back memories of then Bharat Ratna APJ Abdul Kalam’s surprise Presidential nomination. Many have speculated about the possibility of others who have excelled in non political fields such as Infosys Founder, NR Narayanamurthy or even MetromanSreedharan, though the Kochi Metro inauguration controversy, laid that to rest. Effectively proving they were just rumours. A top BJP leader though, recently stunned many guests invited for lunch when he said the Presidential candidate would be “tall, good looking and a kayasth”. The audience was left wondering whether this was a reference to the Big B or a red herring to throw them off track!

The Friday lunch of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat with President Pranab Mukherjee sent tongues wagging in Lutyens Delhi about whether any political meaning should be attached to this meet. The RSS chief spent close to 2 hours in the President house. While Bhagwat has scotched rumours of his becoming President in the past, the RSS formally issued a press release after reports of their meeting to clarify that it was a mere courtesy call. Few know that Bhagwat has visited the President house many times in the past and was here as recently as three weeks ago.

The chances of Dr Narendra Jadav is considered best by many in the political circles. Dr Jadav belonging to SC community is a renowned economist, reputed academician, author of many books, former member of the Planning Commission and presently a Rajya Sabha member. He is the favourite of Dr. Manmohan Singh and was nominated to the Rajya Sabha during UPA rule. He is also well thought of by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Dr Narendra Jadav has the best qualifications to occupy the Rashtrapati Bhavan and has the chances of unanimous support.

Prime Minister Modi, has made conventional mainstream media pretty much irrelevant when it comes to covering him given that he directly communicates with netizens through twitter and the country as a whole through his Sunday radio address ‘Mann ki Baat’. He has held no press conferences and rarely gives interviews. This and past decisions of the Government on top posts have led many to believe that the ruling establishment will ensure that none of the names reported in the press will make it to Rashtrapati Bhavan and that we should brace for yet another Yogi Adityanath like last minute surprise before the PM departs for his US tour on the 24th of this month!

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