Presidential poll: How a joint Opposition candidate may trump Modi-Shah combination

Back-to-back to meetings between Opposition leaders has sparked off speculation that they are planning to put a joint candidate for the upcoming presidential election.

On July 25, the country will have a new President. The Opposition has started its search for a unanimous candidate against still undeclared name from the ruling coalition.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi has emerged as the rallying point for the Opposition camp. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and CPI-M general secretary Sitaram Yechury have already discussed the matter with her.

It is not yet known whether Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi is involved in these crucial discussions.

The back-to-back meetings of Nitish Kumar and Sitaram Yechury with Sonia Gandhi have sparked off speculation that the Opposition is in talks for putting up a joint candidate to take on the might of the BJP, which has gone from strength-to-strength after the recent Assembly elections.

The CPM Politburo has already decided that if a common candidate is put up by the Opposition, it would vote for him.

WHO ELSE IS SAYING WHAT

CPI leader D Raja has also said that his party would prefer to vote for a joint candidate by the Opposition parties.

Regional parties are said to be in parallel talks for putting up a candidate against the ruling coalition's.

West Bengal Chief Minister and TMC chief Mamata Banerjee has held talks with Odisha Chief Minister Navin Patnaik over the matter. The Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party are also in favour of an alliance candidate.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has given the call for 'unite or perish'.

A sense is emerging among the Opposition parties that they need to have a common candidate in order to embarrass the Narendra Modi government in the presidential poll.

WHO CAN BE OPPOSITION'S CANDIDATE

As soon as Opposition leaders began their meetings, a few possible names of candidates for the presidential office started cropping up.

Speculation is rife that NCP chief Sharad Pawar, JDU leader Sharad Yadav, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and former Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar are in the race for Opposition's candidate.

Some voices have also been raised in support of Vice President Hamid Ansari. The possibility of incumbent President Pranab Mukherjee taking the field is also not out of the equation.

PRANAB MUKHERJEE

Pranab Mukherjee had defeated NDA's candidate, former Congress leader PA Sangma, in 2012 to become the 13th President of India. Pranab Mukherjee won 7,13,763 votes against Sangma's 3,15,987 votes.

Pranab Mukherjee has vast experience in politics and has served in the government in various capacities including as the Finance Minister, Defence Minister and External Affairs Minister.

Pranab Mukjherjee has good relations with his political opponents. In 2012, even the Shiv Sena had voted for him while staying in alliance with the BJP as an NDA constituent.

Mamata Banerjee can also extend support to him.

However, many believe that Pranab Mukherjee may not like to contest without the support of the ruling parties, which does not seem to be a realistic possibility.

HAMID ANSARI

Vice President Hamid Ansari is considered 'apolitical' and hence an agreeable candidate for most of the Opposition parties. Hamid Ansari is said to be open to the idea of contesting the presidential poll as the joint candidate of a united Opposition.

Hamid Ansari will complete the two consecutive terms as the Vice President of India on August 12 this year.

Being the grand-nephew of a freedom fighter and a Muslim, Hamid Ansari fits the bill for the Opposition's joint candidate. The leading Opposition parties can have regional parties - not aligned with the BJP - onboard citing anti-minority image of the saffron party.

SHARAD PAWAR

Even though he is a member of the Rajya Sabha, NCP chief Sharad Pawar is not very active as a political leader these days and is looking for a befitting retirement from public life. The NCP is said to be canvassing among the Opposition parties about the possibility of making Sharad Pawar their joint candidate. However, the talks have not reached any significant stage yet.

Sharad Pawar has also buried his differences with Congress chief Sonia Gandhi long ago and had a productive association with her party for ten years in the UPA.

Sharad Pawar has friends across the political spectrum. Shiv Sena can vote for him in the presidential election citing Maratha pride the way it did during the 2007-poll when the party voted for Pratibha Patil.

MANMOHAN SINGH

Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is another possible option for the Opposition parties. To his credit, of course with the help of Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh has the distinction of two tenures of UPA coalition governments successfully.

Manmohan Singh may get support from Mamata Banerjee, Nitish Kumar, Navin Patnaik, the Left Front and also the AIADMK.

Arvind Kejriwal's AAP may have problems in supporting Manmohan Singh for its tirade against the former Prime Minister. But, AAP is unlikely to be seen voting on the same side as the BJP.

During his tenure, Manmohan was praised as the most educated head of the state of the time. He is also known as a politician, who goes by the book.

A united Opposition may end up having a joint candidate in Manmohan Singh if Sonia Gandhi proposes his name.

HOW OPPOSITION CAN PULL IT UP

The Opposition camp has about 52.5 per cent of the 10.99 lakh votes of the Electoral College.

On other ruling coalition side, the Shiv Sena has 2.5 per cent vote share. Shiv Sena has not voted with the BJP in the last two presidential polls on one or the other pretext. The two alliance partners are already passing through a turbulent phase of relationship.

If Shiv Sena's vote share is taken out, the NDA controls 45 per cent of the total vote pool for the presidential election.

In such a scenario, the AIADMK emerges as a key player with 5.5 per cent votes in the Electoral College. If the Opposition camp manages to stay united and keep the AIADMK on its side, the Shah-Modi combination could be in for a major embarrassment.