Who will be the next President?
Kovind and Venkaiah’s terms come to an end in July and August
will Kovind get another chance?
What Modi is thinking about Presidential candidate?
(Dr Pentapati Pullarao, New Delhi)
On July 25th, 2022, the tenure of Rashtrapathi Ramnath Kovind will be over. Vice President Venkaiah Naidu’s term will be over on August 10, 2022. There is wide speculation on whether the same team of President and Vice-President will continue or there will be new contestants. By June, 2022, the names of candidates will be out for President and vice-president.
Some facts on the office of Rashtrapathi
- The only President to get 2 terms in office was Dr. Rajendra Prasad ,the first President of India. No other President got a second term, though many tried seriously.
- Many vice-Presidents got two terms in office. The first Vice-President Dr. Radhakrishnan got 2 terms as Vice President, as also Hamid Ansari, who was vice-President from 2007 to 2017.
- Usually, the choice of presidents are a surprises. The biggest surprises was the selection of Abdul Kalam as President candidate. Dr. Abdul Kalam had retired from Ministry of Defence and had a small teaching job in Chennai. Dr. Kalam sought a job at the Indian institute of Science, Bangalore as a professor. But the Indian institute of Science arrogantly rejected him that he did not have a Ph.D. Within a month of this rejection, Abdul Kalam became President of India and became the Head of the Indian Institute of science. That is destiny.
- Pratibha Patil was the first woman President of India. She was never in the race. But she was suddenly selected due to political reasons. The UPA Government wanted a woman and a woman who was low profile. Pratibha Patil fit their need.
- The only President who contested two Rastrapathi elections was Neelam Sanjiva Reddy. Sanjiva Reddy stood in 1969 and lost. But then again, he stood in 1977 and won.
- The present President Ramnath Kovind was a governor of Bihar. But his name was not in the media as potential President candidate. Many other names were going around. But suddenly, his name was announced and it caused a big surprise.
Law of Averages favor Venkaiah Naidu to become president
Many Vice Presidents have become Presidents. Radhakrishnan, V.V. Giri, Shanker Dayal Sharma, R. Venkaraman, Dr.Zakir Hussain and K.R. Narayanan were Vice-Presidents who became Presidents. Even B. D. Jatti, Vice President from 1974, though he did not become President, was Acting President for 7 months. All Southern Vice-Presidents have become President, including B.D. Jatti who was Acting President. Zakir Hussain was born in Hyderabad. Remember that Shanker Dayal Sharma was a Governor of Andhra Pradesh. So being associated with South India is lucky for Vice-Presidents.
Does BJP have a majority to elect the new Rashtrapathi?
The BJP has a simple majority to get any candidate elected as Rashtrapathi. But it is always safe to get the support of other opposition parties. In 2017, BJP got the TRS, YSR Congress, Naveen Patnaik BJD, ADMK and some other parties to support Ramnath Kovind. The big surprise supporter was chief minister of Bihar Nitish Kumar, who was with the opposition.
But the BJP will try to get maximum support by choosing highly qualified and acceptable candidates. Right now, it looks as if the opposition will only put up a symbolic fight. If the BJP did not have a majority, then a candidate like Sharad Pawar might have jumped into the race.
There is also the possibility that the opposition maybe divided. Not every opposition party supports the Congress Party. So unless the opposition candidate is widely acceptable, there might be a divided Opposition, which will make things easy for the BJP.
A. The BJP might decide to repeat the same President and Vice-President candidates. That is possible ,but highly unlikely. Except in 1957, when Rajendra Prasad and Radhakrishanan were repeated, it never happened in Indian politics.
B. The BJP could re-nominate President Ramnath Kovind alone, as he belongs to the weaker sections and has been a great president. He had great dignity and never got into any controversies.
C. The BJP could nominate Vice-President Venkaiah Naidu. Vice-Presidents usually became candidates for President. But then again, the BJP will have to take into consideration politics and also how its potential allies will react to Venkaiah Naidu’s candidature.
D. The BJP may also accept a suggestion of the opposition and agree to a consensus candidate. When Atal Vajpayee was Prime Minister in 1992, BJP accepted the suggestion of Opposition leader Mulayam Singh Yadav and nominated Abdul Kalam for President. By agreeing to an opposition Muslim candidate, BJP won that election with 90% votes for Abdul Kalam. So there is gain in getting a consensus candidate.
E. There is also talk of a minority Muslim personality for the post of Vice-President. The names of Arif Mohammed Khan, Governor of Kerala and Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad are going around. Both will get wide support and will enhance the image of India across the world. Since Vice-President is Chairman of the Rajya Sabha, BJP will select an active politician for Vice-President.
Political options for the BJP
The BJP would like to use the Rashtrapathi and Upa-Rashtrapathi elections to widen its social base and influence across the country. The BJP had grown in many areas and in new social groups. But there are still large gaps and the BJP might use this electoral opportunity to gain popularity. There is a big chance for the Rashtrapathi candidate to be from a marginal group and most probably a woman.
- In all probability, BJP might select a tribal woman as its choice. There are many such candidates. But Prime Minister Modi will also like a person, who will ‘look right “ for the job. In this way, Modi is like former US President Donald Trump, who believed that the person must “ look right “ for the job. That is why Donald Trump usually selected people as Foreign minister or Defence Minister, who had certain looks. Modi will pay much attention to judge the overall suitability, as the President and Vice-President are India’s face. Ram Nath Kovind fit the job beautifully.
- There is also the possibility that the BJP might give importance to the North East. The last President from the North East was Fakrhuddin Ali Ahmed in 1974 .There are many tribal communities in the North East, particularly Assam.
- The BP might also consider a Bengali or Odiya , where it is trying to grow. If someone from these 2 states were selected for any of the 2 offices, it will send a big message to that area.
- Then again, the south presents a good opportunity. The Telugu States had many Presidents, namely Radhakrishnan , V.V. Giri and Neelam Sanjiva reddy . Kerala also had K.R. Narayanan. Tamilnadu has R. Venkataraman . Only Karnataka seems to be left out.
In normal times, the President has very little power to interfere in politics. But if a government loses majority, then the role of the President becomes supreme.
On 2 occasions, the election of a Rahstrapathi gripped the attention of the country. One was in 1967 , when a former Chief Justice of India Koka Subba Rao contested as the untied opposition candidate against the Congress candidate Dr. Zakir Hussein . In 1967 elections, the opposition did very well and for the first time, there was a serious contest.
The second time was in 1969 when Neelam Sanjiva Reddy contested against V.V. Giri, who was the opposition candidate. Neelam Sanjiva Reddy was the Congress candidate. But after his nomination by the Congress party, the Prime Minister Indira Gandhi decided that if Sanjiva Reddy is elected, he may create instability for her own position. So Indira Gandhi then supported V.V. Giri, who was the Vice-President . That contest was bitter, serious and Sanjiva Reddy was defeated and the Congress Party split after that.
There was also another instance where a President , who won with the support of the Congress, then turned against it seriously. Giani Zail Signh was elected in 1982 as a congress candidate. But when Rajiv Gandhi became Prime Minister in 1985, Zail Singh developed serious differences with Rajiv Gandhi and they were not even on talking terms in the end.
Power is very strange. The best of friends become enemies and the worst of enemies become friends.
Thankfully in India, nearly all the Presidents behaved with great dignity and patriotism and worked well with any party who came to power. Naturally, the government would like a President, who will not become controversial . Ina country of 135 crores, it will not be hard to find such candidates. India will surely get a good president. (Author is a prominent political analyst)