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Sushma Swaraj For President? NDA Nominee to be Finalised Soon

External Affairs minister Sushma Swaraj has emerged as the lead contender to be NDA’s nominee for the next President of India, three top sources from the BJP and RSS have told News18.

Marya Shakil | CNN-News18maryashakil

Updated:June 15, 2017, 6:40 PM IST
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New Delhi: External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj has emerged the lead contender to become NDA's candidate to succeed Pranab Mukherjee as the next President of India, three top sources from the BJP and RSS have told News18.

Swaraj qualifies in every criteria laid down by the BJP top brass and also has the endorsement of the Sangh, they said, adding that her name could figure in Friday's talks between the ruling dispensation and the Opposition to build consensus ahead of the presidential elections slated for this month end. Senior BJP leaders — Home Minister Rajnath Singh, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and Information and Broadcasting Minister Venkaiah Naidu — are to meet Congress president Sonia Gandhi and CPM's top honcho Sitaram Yechury in this regard on Friday.

A top BJP leader who is privy to deliberations on who should be the party's presidential candidate said a decision was made earlier on not to field any apolitical candidate just for the sake of building a consensus.

"Look, we have tied up the numbers. So there is no need to go for someone outside the Sangh Parivar. We have decided that our candidate will come from the BJP stable, will be someone moored in the Sangh tradition, and will be an active politician," this person said.


This leader hinted Swaraj, 65, was also the hot favourite for a variety of reasons, not least being the expectation that she could pull in votes from a few regional parties too. "Leaders like Mamata Banerjee and Naveen Patnaik will find it difficult to oppose her," he said, adding that the final name will be made public in a matter of few days.

Swaraj's office declined to comment on this story.

A seven-time MP and three-time MLA, Swaraj has been in public life since the Janata Party days. She grew up in a family of swayamsevaks and commands respect across party lines. As External Affairs Minister, her personal interventions in bringing home stranded Indians have made her a darling of the social media.

According to sources, the BJP team has already spoken to BSP's Satish Chandra Mishra and NCP’s Praful Patel regarding the presidential elections.

Names of Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan and Jharkhand Governor Draupadi Murmu were also doing the rounds for the top post, but it seems the final choice has now narrowed down to Swaraj and Mahajan.

An RSS leader involved in early deliberations said the Sangh preferred BJP veteran MM Joshi as the candidate. However, he was recently chargesheeted in the Babri demolition case – a criminal case -- along with BJP patriarch LK Advani, ruling out the chances of both.

Sangh, the RSS leader said, was equally keen on Sushma Swaraj's candidature.

News18 spoke to several leaders of regional parties, including the TMC and JD(U), and they said Swaraj's moderate image makes her an acceptable candidate among most leaders. "She has been sincere in working for the cause of the middle class and women,' said a leader who has known Swaraj for decades.

A BJP source said the NDA candidate is likely to file nomination before June 24, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi will leave for his official trip to the US.

Commentator Neerja Chowdhury says the political messaging with such an appointment will be about consensus building. "The BJP cannot find a better name than Sushma Swaraj for president today. They can build national consensus around her name. Consensus for top position of the country, who is the head of the state and custodian of the Constitution, will mean a lot, particularly at this juncture when politics is contentious," said Chowdhury.

The fact that Swaraj's appeal cuts across party lines was for everyone to see during the last Budget Session of the parliament, when she returned after a six-month break during which she underwent a kidney transplant. As Swaraj entered the House, members from all parties stood up as a gesture of respect and Lok Sabha speaker Sumitra Mahajan welcomed her on behalf of everyone.



SUSHMA SWARAJ


Considered by many as the best orator in the present Lok Sabha, Swaraj is respected not only for her seniority, but also for her knowledge of legislative matters. She chose politics over legal practice in the Supreme Court and became a minister in Haryana at the age of 25.

Since then, she has served as Chief Minister of Delhi, Union Information and Broadcasting Minister, Union Health Minister and the Leader of Opposition. In her current profile, she has a personal rapport with many world leaders.

"Sushma Swaraj is a strong woman contender who enjoys a political stature. She has built critical associations across parties because of her long standing career as a parliamentarian," social scientist Manisha Priyam said.


While Swaraj's candidature is likely to find support among regional Opposition parties, it may be tougher to convince the Congress. Swaraj has unique distinction of taking on both Indira Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi in electoral battles.

Recalling one of Swaraj’s speeches during the elections in 1980s after the Emergency, Chaudhury said, “While campaigning in a village against Indira Gandhi, Swaraj asked people "aapke gaon mein kitne logon ne beti ko Kaushalya ka naam diya hai?' Several hands went up. 'Ab bataiye Keikai ka naam kitne logon ne diya hai?' That was her style of targeting Indira Gandhi that Keikai tried to appoint her own son while Kaushalya, Ram’s mother, didn't do that.'

In 1999, Swaraj was nominated to contest against Sonia Gandhi from the Bellary constituency in Karnataka. During her campaign, she addressed public meetings in Kannada. Swaraj questioned the Congress president's so-called “foreign origin” and got 358,000 votes. Even though Gandhi won that election, Swaraj continued attacking her.

In 2004, when Congress-led UPA came to power and there were demands to make Sonia Gandhi the Prime Minister, Swaraj went to the extent of saying that she would shave her head, eat only gram and live in a hut if a "foreigner" was made the PM. Since then however, both Gandhi and Swaraj have developed a good relationship.

When asked, a BJP leader said while the party was trying to build consensus, but if Congress wants to stay out, his party wouldn't mind it. "Once all other parties agree on a name, Congress will have no other option," he added.

Recently, Venkaiah Naidu – Union minister and one of the three top leaders tasked with speaking to Opposition on the presidential polls – had told News18 that the government will try its best to create a consensus on this matter.

"We will try our best. After all, we have to elect the President of India, and not a party president," he had said.

The Opposition parties have met thrice on the issue — first at Sonia Gandhi's residence on May 26; then at DMK supremo Karunanidhi's birthday in Chennai on June 4; and most recently on June 14 in New Delhi. After the June 14 meeting, Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha

Ghulam Nabi Azad said, "We have not come up with any name as yet. The government has approached us saying they want to discuss the issue. They will meet each party separately and once this happens, we will sit together and take a decision."


On its part, BJP seems confident that its candidate will sail through. The Electoral College for choosing the President consists of 4,896 voters. While the Lok Sabha has 543 voters and the Rajya Sabha 233, the overwhelming majority, 4,120, comes from state assemblies. The total value of votes in the election is 10,98,903 — 5,49,408 for MPs and 5,49,495 for MLAs.

The value of each vote of an MP is 708 but this differs for MLAs from state to state. The value of an MLA’s vote in Uttar Pradesh is the highest (208) and the lowest is Sikkim (7).



The NDA by itself is short of about 18,000 votes. But it expects to gain the support of many smaller parties, besides all the factions of the feuding AIADMK, which has vote value of over 26,000.
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