Who will be India’s next President? This is the question that has set the country’s political corridors buzzing ahead of the presidential polls in July 2017. The Opposition is trying its best to put up a united candidate while the BJP is still considering names.
One thing is clear: It is highly unlikely that all involved political parties will field a consensus candidate for the highest constitutional office in India. The election is a matter of course.
The Mechanics of Presidential Elections
In India, the President is elected by an electoral college comprising elected members of the Lok Sabha, elected members of the Rajya Sabha, and elected members of the State Legislative Assemblies.
The total number of voting MPs in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha is 776, while the total number of voting MLAs is 4,114.
The calculation of the votes is done using a special formula constituted under the Presidential and Vice-Presidential Election Rules, 1974.
According to this formula, the vote of each MP is valued at 708 while the vote of an MLA is valued according to the population of his state and state assembly strength. For example, the value of the vote of an MLA from a big state like UP is 208 while that of an MLA from Sikkim is merely 7.
Under this system, the candidate fielded by a party or parties will have to secure 50 percent of votes polled (ie: 5,49,441 votes) to win the presidential seat.
The Opposition vs BJP Wave
The Opposition seems to be rallying behind Congress to field a common candidate against the BJP-led NDA. To this end, Congress President Sonia Gandhi has met with nearly every leader of the opposition parties, from Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar to the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) President Sharad Pawar to the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI-M) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury and Rashtriya Janata Dal head Lalu Prasad Yadav, among others.
At the recent Opposition Unity Summit held to commemorate the 95th birth anniversary of socialist leader Madhu Limaye, Yechury said:
The Presidential poll is the first test of Opposition unity against BJP’s power and we must field a candidate by consensus.
In 2012, Trinamool supremo Mamata Banerjee had opposed UPA’s candidate Pranab Mukherjee, but this time:
• Mamata is likely to stand with the Opposition to face off against BJP’s candidate
• While the Congress and the Samajwadi Party have announced that they will contest the local body elections in Uttar Pradesh separately, they are likely to join hands for the presidential polls.
• Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati has already spoken in favour of a “mahagathbandhan” against the BJP.
Some parties however, motivated by exigencies of state elections or internal politics, are still maintaining their distance from the NDA and the Opposition. These include AIADMK (Tamil Nadu), BJD (Odisha), Telangana Rashtra Samiti (Telangana), YSR Congress Party (Andhra Pradesh), AAP (Delhi), and Indian National Lok Dal (Haryana).
It is hard to predict the alliances these parties might finally form. If we treat these undecided players as a separate group, this is what the current situation will look like:
Going by the numbers, it is clear that:
- If the NDA retains its entire flock, PM Modi needs only 17,404 (5,49,441-5,32,037) votes to appoint a president of his choice.
- If these six undecided parties choose to align themselves with the Opposition, their total vote share will be marginally more than that of the NDA (3,91,739+1,44,302= 5,36,041).
Who Will be the Face of the Opposition?
The question then is whether the opposition will agree on one candidate and if yes, who this candidate will be. The names currently being floated include JDU’s Sharad Yadav, NCP leader Sharad Pawar, ex-Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar, and former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
Sources say that Manmohan Singh will have the support not only of Mamata Banerjee, Nitish Kumar, the Left, Mayawati, and Akhilesh Kumar but also BJD, AIADMK, and the other undecided parties.
Shiv Sena: The Weakest Link?
Will Shiv Sena prove to be the chink in NDA’s armour? It is interesting to note that Shiv Sena voted for the UPA’s candidate in the last two elections – incumbent President Pranab Mukherjee and former President Pratibha Patil – despite being a part of the NDA. According to sources, infighting is rampant among Sharad Pawar’s parties.
If his name is fielded for the election, Shiv Sena, in the name of Marathi pride and unity, is likely to ditch the NDA again. The NDA has a total of 25, 893 votes and it could change the game if the Sena decides to shift loyalties.
Sonia Gandhi to Call a Meeting
Sources say that Sonia Gandhi will likely call a meeting with non-NDA party leaders after 15 May to finalise a candidate for the election. Until then, the Opposition will persist in its efforts to win the support of parties like AIADMK, BJD, and Shiv Sena.
(This story was originally published in Quint Hindi.)