New Delhi: The Congress favours Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar as the opposition candidate for the upcoming presidential elections, hoping that the veteran politician will be able to garner support from a cross-section of political parties, including some BJP-led NDA constituents.
However, the main opposition party will support incumbent Pranab Mukherjee if the ruling side re-nominates him. West Bengal chief minister and Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee and her Bihar counterpart and Janata Dal (United) president Nitish Kumar have already stated that the National Democratic Alliance should give a second tenure to Mukherjee. His term ends on July 25 this year.
Bharatiya Janata Party sources, however, said the party is not in favour of another term for Mukherjee and would prefer to have its "own candidate" in the Rashtrapati Bhawan.
The National democratic Alliance has an edge in terms of votes that form the electoral college, comprising elected MPs and MLAs, for the presidential polls. Out of the total value of 1,098,882 votes, the NDA has approximately 537,614 and the opposition's strength stands at around 402,303 while roughly 159,123 are non-aligned.
If the BJP manages to retain its entire NDA flock, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will still require around 18,300 votes to ensure the victory of his choice. The NDA is likely to sail through comfortably if it secures the support of either AIADMK with 59,224 votes or the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) which has 32,892 votes. The two parties hold the key to the country's top post.
Congress managers are of the view that 76-year-old Pawar is a powerful and influential leader who could make it tough for the BJP. They hope that Pawar will be able to muster support not only from the Shiv Sena, a key NDA constituent, but also other non-aligned parties such as the BJD.
In the past too, the Sena defied and broken ranks with the BJP-led NDA by supporting the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) candidates. It backed Pratibha Patil, a Marathi, in 2007 and then Pranab Mukherjee in 2012. In its internal assessment, the Congress has suggested that the UPA will have to rope in regional outfits, non-NDA parties and even independent lawmakers to ensure that a "desirable candidate" is elected as the president.
"Only Pawar sahib is capable of that," said a senior Congress functionary. However, NCP spokesperson Nawab Malik said last week Pawar had rejected Congress president Sonia Gandhi's offer to be the opposition candidate. Giving details, he said Sonia had made the offer in her meeting with the NCP chief at her residence on April 27.
"But Pawar sahib refused and told Soniaji that he will work towards getting an opposition candidate elected as the president," Malik said.
The NCP has 11 MPs and around 50 MLAs in different states across the country. "We will have to persuade him (Pawar)," said another Congress leader. Sonia has been holding talks with opposition leaders on fielding a consensus candidate for the presidential elections.
Apart from Pawar, Mamata and Nitish Kumar, she has so far discussed the issue with Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav, Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad, CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury, Sharad Yadav of the Janata Dal (United), CPI's D. Raja and National Conference leader Omar Abdullah.
A meeting of the opposition leaders on the issue is expected to be held before they gather for the birthday celebrations of ailing DMK patriarch M. Karunanidhi in Chennai on June 3.