Pushed to a corner, BJP backs Sangma’s
New Delhi, June 21
Deserting the BJP-led camp after the Shiv Sena, was another key ally the JD (U) that formally declared its decision to back Mukherjee. On the other hand, within the Left, the CPI and the Revolutionary Socialist Party differed with the assessment of the CPM and the AIFB and decided to abstain from voting in the July election.
Committing itself to oppose the candidature of Mukherjee, the BJP went with the AIADMK and the BJD-sponsored Sangma as the candidate for the top constitutional post. Sangma, who quit the NCP yesterday to enter the Presidential fray, was first nominated for it by Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa and Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik.
Faced with Hobson’s choice after its preferred candidate, former President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam decided against contesting, BJP leaders Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley announced here that the party and Shiromani Akali Dal decided to contest the election as the BJP wishes to maintain its character of being the principal party in the opposition.
Justifying the decision to reject Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s appeal for support to UPA candidate Mukherjee, Swaraj said the request came late, well after the ruling coalition had taken a unilateral decision on the Finance Minister’s candidature.
“There were no prior consultations with the opposition in this regard,” she said while Jaitley maintained the opposition was expected to fall in line now that a formal decision was taken. Interestingly, reports appeared quoted BJP member Maneka Gandhi favouring Mukherjee.
Both Swaraj and Jaitley admitted that the BJP was not able to persuade its two key allies, the Shiv Sena and the JD(U), to support Sangma but remained hopeful of bringing them on board since the former Lok Sabha Speaker has quit the NCP and is no longer aligned with the UPA.
The BJP also remained hopeful that the UPA’s estranged partner Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee will also back Sangma for the same reason. An optimistic BJP leader said if Mamata comes on board, Sangma could poll over 35 per cent votes but admitted that Mukherjee is way ahead in the race.
Separately, JD (U) leader Sharad Yadav told the media about his party’s decision to support Pranab Mukherjee’s candidature making a subtle distinction that the support was not for a Congress candidate but a UPA nominee on whom there is consensus. The Shiv Sena also said there was no rethink on its earlier decision to back Mukherjee.
An embarrassed BJP, however, played down these divisions in the NDA, stating that the differences were limited to the presidential election and will not affect the longevity of the alliance.
The Left, too, made similar noises emphasising the ideological differences would not stand in the way of broader Left unity on pro-people campaigns planned jointly.
Prior to the meeting of the Four Left parties, the CPI National Council unanimously resolved not to vote for Mukherjee holding him responsible for implementing the neo-liberal economic policies of the government, while the CPM Polit Bureau too resulted in a division over the move to back Mukherjee.
Though party general secretary Prakash Karat maintained that no vote was taken, it is understood that that members from West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh backed Mukherjee while those from Kerala and Tamil Nadu spoke against the move. Prakash later emphasised that since 1992 the CPM backed a Congress-backed nominee in the presidential elections barring 2002 when it opposed Kalam, fielded by BJP-led NDA.
Meanwhile, Congress today dismissed the BJP complaint that it was not consulted before the UPA decided on Pranab Mukherjee as its candidate, saying the opposition party was sulking like a child. Describing PA Sangma as a “borrowed candidate”, AICC general secretary Janardan Dwivedi said the BJP was backing the former Lok Sabha Speaker only for the sake of a contest.