The forthcoming Presidential elections to elect India’s 14th President is expected to be a fierce contest between the ruling NDA and a fragmented opposition. There is a lot at stake as President Pranab Mukherjee retires on 25 July and the next President has to be elected before that date.
Hectic political parleys are already underway with the Congress trying to come out of its political wilderness in trying to motivate a divided opposition to put up a united fight to take on the BJP juggernaut.
Just last week saw NCP leader Sharad Pawar meet with Sonia Gandhi who has already held meetings with leaders like Sharad Yadav JD(U), Lalu Prasad Yadav (RJD), Sitaram Yechury (CPI-M) and Nitish Kumar (RJD). Mamata Banerjee (TMC) too has called for opposition to unite in putting up a strong consensus candidate.
Likewise, BJP too has been on mission President as it went about clinically fighting the UP elections. The sweeping results in UP has definitely helped BJP’s cause, and for that matter NDA’s, and here’s why.
The Presidential election process
The President of India is elected through a voting process by members of the Electoral College comprising elected members of Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha and members of all Legislative Assemblies.
There are 776 voting MPs of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha together, while voting MLAs of all legislative assemblies are 4,114. Since states vary in size and population, the value of each MLA vote is calculated by taking the total population of the state and dividing it by the number of MLAs of that state x 1000.
The value of each MP’s vote is arrived at by taking the value of all MLA’s votes together and dividing it by the total number of MPs.
As per this formula, each state is given proportionate weightage based on size and population of that state. This method of calculating the value of MP and MLA votes was agreed upon in 1974 for electing the President and Vice President of India.
This is the reason why winning the UP elections with a clear majority was so crucial to BJP. Its chances are that much stronger in the forthcoming elections.
Likewise, with Congress losing power in more states since 2012, its position has become weaker and will therefore have to struggle to put up a candidate of its choice against stronger regional parties, who may want to put up a non-Congress consensus candidate instead.
Far cry from 2002, 2007, 2012
During the 2002 elections, the NDA was in power and put up APJ Kalam as their choice of candidate. The Left Front put up Lakshmi Sahgal as their candidate in the last minute. With parties like BSP, AIADMK and TDP supporting BJP, Congress was in no position to put up a fight and just two days prior to elections, extended support to APJ Kalam.
In 2007, when UPA was strongly entrenched in power and BJP in a disarray, the UPA put up Pratibha Patil as their candidate of choice. Though UPA had the majority votes, the surprise came in the form of Shiv Sena coming out in support of a fellow Maharashtrian and voted for Pratibha Patil, despite being in opposition and an alliance partner with NDA.
In 2012, UPA II was in power and had the majority. They put up Pranab Mukherjee as the their choice of candidate while a weaker BJP and NDA put up PA Sangma as their candidate. Interestingly, despite having a Bengali candidate standing for the first time, TMC opposed Pranab Mukherjee’s candidature. Pranab Mukherjee beat his rival by 40% votes.
So who’s candidate going to be the next President of India?
This time around, the BJP and NDA are in a better position, especially after having won Uttar Pradesh, the largest and most populous state in India.
Although BJP is yet to officially disclose the name of their candidate, three possible names doing the rounds are of Sushma Swaraj, 65 – Union Minister of External Affairs, Sumitra Mahajan, 74 – Lok Sabha Speaker, and Droupadi Murmu, 58 – Governor of Jharkhand.
Both Sushma Swaraj and Sumitra Mahajan come with excellent credentials and experience, as does Droupadi Murmu, but the latter has an edge as a tribal. The BJP could score big in breaking into the tribal segment, pan India, if she is put up and wins the election.
There was some talk of LK Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi being considered but with the Babri Masjid case reviving, either name seems unlikely.
From the Congress side, Manmohan Singh seems to be the only possible candidate that could find support across the fragmented opposition.
For the BJP, it will need to keep its alliance partners close together. Shiv Sena went against the alliance in 2007 and could well do an encore this time as well, given its turbulent relations with the BJP in Maharashtra.
One thing is for sure, this election is going to be very crucial for both sides; the BJP, as it prepares going into 2019 for a re-run and the Congress, for whom this will be the last chance to stand up to a fast expanding BJP.