Hours before the Opposition met to discuss their candidates, and with the Election Commission issuing the notification for the Presidential election, the ruling BJP on Wednesday reached out to the Congress, CPM and other parties to begin a consultation exercise on the issue.
At the Opposition meeting, sources said, RJD chief Lalu Prasad and CPM’s Sitaram Yechury argued that they should field a candidate at any cost as it was an “ideological and political fight” against the BJP.
Sources said that some leaders wanted to wait for consultations with the government, but Yechury pointed out that this “was not the understanding” at the previous Opposition meeting on the issue. Prasad told the meeting that there cannot be any “ideological compromise” with the BJP, said sources.
Earlier in the day, Information and Broadcasting Minister M Venkaiah Naidu contacted Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Yechury to initiate consultations. He also spoke to NCP’s Praful Patel and BSP’s Satish Chandra Mishra to finalise a meeting with NCP chief Sharad Pawar and BSP supremo Mayawati.
Also Wednesday, after a meeting of the BJP core group, Naidu and Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh held discussions to chalk out the schedule for meetings with political leaders
Naidu and Singh are expected to meet Congress president Gandhi and Yechury on Friday. Singh is expected to speak to West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
BJP sources said the party wanted Singh to make use of his “warm ties” with Banerjee, who is miffed with the BJP due to the party’s political moves in West Bengal.
Naidu also spoke to PMK leader Anbumani Ramadoss and All India NR Congress leader N Rangaswamy. Party sources said Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, who is currently in South Korea, will hold talks with the socialist parties.
The general sense in the Opposition camp, however, is that the government is “consulting the Opposition for the sake of consultation” as a “mere formality”. But BJP leaders, sources said, have assessed that if there is a contest, some of the parties “with the Opposition currently” could extend their support to the party’s candidate.
Sources said that Opposition leaders have also sensed possible attempts by the BJP to try and divide them. “Let’s see what is their plan…it could also be a delaying tactic…anyway we are prepared,” said a senior Opposition leader.
Senior Opposition leaders said they would announce the joint candidate only after June 20, with the filing of nominations slotted to take place around June 24-25.
BJP sources indicated that the party’s candidate would be announced before June 24, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to leave for the US for a two-day trip. The nomination process will end on June 28.