Explained: who will be the opposition candidate in the presidential elections? Is Sharad Pawar out?

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Nationalist Congress Party leader Sharad Pawar has Congress and Trinamool backing to join the race for Rashtrapati Bhavan. But it looks like the veteran chef has other plans. What are the other choices of the opposition?

The race for the next presidential elections is heating up with names circling over who could head for Rashtrapati Bhawan next, as President Ram Nath Kovind’s term ends on July 24.

One name that keeps coming up since the start of all the deliberations is that of the leader of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), Sharad Pawar. On Tuesday, June 14, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee held talks with the veteran leader at his residence in Delhi. Banerjee and Pawar met ahead of a major opposition talk to be held today to discuss a common strategy for the July 18 presidential election.

Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress wrote on Twitter: “Two loyal leaders have prepared the ground for the reunion of all progressive opposition forces; is scheduled to take place tomorrow at the Constitution Club in New Delhi. Our resolve to fight the forces of division is growing stronger!

But is Pawar the opposition presidential candidate? We take a look.

Does he have support?

The outcry began after Congress hinted at its support for Pawar as the presidential candidate. Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge met the 81-year-old at his residence in Mumbai last week with a message from party leader Sonia Gandhi. She also spoke with other opposition leaders on Saturday.

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“Congress President Sonia Gandhi had reached out and deliberated on the issue of the upcoming presidential election with Sharad Pawar, Mamata Banerjee and other opposition leaders,” a Congress statement said. “According to her discussions with other opposition leaders, she instructed LoP Mallikarjun Kharge to coordinate with other leaders given her poor health due to Covid-19.”

The party stressed that India needs a president who can protect the Constitution, democracy, institutions and citizens; a leader who can add a “healing touch” to the country’s “fractured social fabric.”

Trinamool, too, would back a politician who can reach out to opposition parties that have never been part of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance and Pawar is best suited for that role.

Read also: How does India choose its president?

Does Pawar want to fight?

Despite the support of opposition parties, the leader of the NCP is reluctant to join the race. The party said its leader did not want to fight a losing battle.

“No doubt if Pawar saheb becomes president of India, every Marathi’s chest will swell with pride. But the question is, do we have the required numbers,” asked NCP leader Chhagan Bhujbal.

Another senior NCP official said that Pawar is a “man of the people” and that he will “not limit himself to Rashtrapati Bhavan”. “…I don’t think he cares (he contests the election). Saheb (Pawar) is a man of the people who likes to meet people. It will not be limited to Rashtrapati Bhavan”, news agency PTI quoted the chef as saying.

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Pawar, however, plays a crucial role in ongoing consultations over the next president. In New Delhi, he also met with left-wing leaders Sitaram Yechury and Dr Raja. “Our understanding is that he is not enthusiastic. He said he has many political commitments,” Raja of the Communist Party of India said.

Does that mean Pawar is out of the race?

Even after the NCP’s stance on Pawar, Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut insisted there could be consensus on the veteran leader’s name as the opposition presidential candidate. He added that the NCP leader’s nod was needed to move things forward, according to a report in India time.

Raut, whose party is in alliance with the NCP and the Maharastra Congress, said the BJP must “elect a real president and a competent administrator and not a rubber stamp”.

“If the opposition parties come together for the election of the president and the ruling party also believes that the country should have a good president like Dr Abdul Kalam or Pranab Mukherjee, then only one name is retained and that is that of Sharad Pawar. Even Modi will accept that,” he said.

What are Pawar’s ambitions?

Instead of vying for president, NCP leader has eyes on role as next UPA organizer, reports Hindustan time. However, Congress does not support this idea.

Those close to Pawar believe that if he can get the numbers from the non-UPA parties to become president, he will also have the support to lead the opposition in the 2024 general elections. ‘UPA or any other grouping of all opposition parties against the ruling BJP, the report says.

If not Pawar, then who?

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Although there is no consensus yet, the opposition is determined to fight a united fight against the BJP in the presidential elections.

The name of Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson and former governor of West Bengal, Gopalkrishna Gandhi, has emerged as a possible opposition candidate. PTI

Some leaders have reportedly reached out to Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson and former governor of West Bengal, Gopalkrishna Gandhi, as a possible choice, according to media reports. He was the opposition’s consensus candidate for Vice President of India in 2017 but lost to Venkaiah Naidu in the election.

Gandhi asked until Wednesday to communicate his decision.

Does an opposition candidate have a chance?

The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance lacks the numbers to guarantee a victory. The electoral college consists of the Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha and state assemblies and the BJP only has a majority in the lower house.

The BJP and its allies have 48% of the vote – 5.26 lakh in the electoral college of 10.86 lakh votes. He would need the support of parties like the Biju Janata Dal, which has over 31,000 votes, Jagan Mohan Reddy’s YSRCP, around 43,000 votes, and the AIADMK which has 15,000. However, these parties have pledged to support the BJP.

Also in the 2017 presidential election, the NDA did not have the required numbers, but it got the support of Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS), YSR Congress and BJD for Kovind against the opposition led candidate by Congress, Meira Kumar.

The BJP has appointed party leader JP Nadda and Defense Minister Rajnath Singh to hold consultations with political parties on its presidential candidate.

With contributions from agencies

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