Battle lines were drawn on Tuesday for the July 18 presidential election with the BJP-led NDA naming Droupadi Murmu, a tribal leader from Odisha, as its candidate while former Union Minister Yashwant Sinha was declared as a joint nominee by major opposition parties, including the Congress, the NCP and the TMC.
BJP president J P Nadda announced the candidature of 64-year-old Murmu, former Jharkhand governor, following a meeting of the party’s parliamentary board, hours after opposition parties in a joint statement named Sinha, who was earlier with the BJP but fell out with the Modi-Shah leadership and joined the Trinamool Congress in March 2021. Murmu (64), a former Jharkhand governor, will be the first tribal woman to occupy the top constitutional post if she is elected, a strong possibility as numbers are stacked in favour of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA).
With her nomination, the BJP is sending out a significant political message after elevating a Dalit, Ram Nath Kovind, to the top post five years back. Prime Minister Modi said Murmu has devoted her life to serving society and expressed confidence that she will be a “great President".
“Droupadi Murmu Ji has devoted her life to serving society and empowering the poor, downtrodden as well as the marginalised. She has rich administrative experience and had an outstanding gubernatorial tenure. I am confident she will be a great President of our nation. “Millions of people, especially those who have experienced poverty and faced hardships, derive great strength from the life of Smt. Droupadi Murmu Ji. Her understanding of policy matters and compassionate nature will greatly benefit our country," Modi tweeted.
Considered a soft-spoken and affable leader who comes from Mayurbhanj, one of the more backward regions of Odisha, Murmu has held various positions in the party rising through the ranks and was a minister in the state when the BJP was in alliance with the ruling Biju Janata Dal. Incidentally, her name was also doing the rounds for the BJP’s likely choice for the top constitutional post in 2017 but Kovind then emerged as its pick.
As a tribal woman candidate of the ruling combine, her candidature may persuade many regional parties, not aligned to either the NDA or the opposition, to back her, BJP sources said. Even some opposition parties will not be seen to be opposing her, they added Murmu said she was surprised as well as delighted by the announcement. Opposition leaders, who gathered at the Parliament annexe for the meeting convened by NCP chief Sharad Pawar to decide on a common candidate for the much-discussed presidential election, unanimously agreed on Sinha’s name.
“He is eminently qualified to uphold the secular and democratic character of the Indian Republic and its Constitutional values," the joint statement said. The veteran politician, who has been an MP from Jharkhand, stepped aside from the Trinamool Congress before the announcement of his name and will file his nomination papers on June 27. “We regret the Modi government made no serious effort to have consensus on a presidential candidate," Ramesh said. He noted that the initiative to have a consensus candidate for the highest office of the Republic should have been taken by the government.
“We are happy to announce that we have unanimously chosen Yashwant Sinha as the common candidate of the opposition parties for the presidential election, which will take place on July 18, 2022," Ramesh said. The leaders also announced that a committee formed to steer Sinha’s presidential campaign will start working from today. Sinha, who has been vocal on a range of issues, is in his 80s. Pawar told reporters that he has personally spoken to a cross-section of leaders from various parties. These included Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal from the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Telangana’s K Chandrashekar Rao from the TRS who stayed away from the meeting.
“We will also try to convince the BJD and YSR Congress," Pawar said when asked whether they are on board. The parties that attended the meeting included the Congress, NCP, TMC, CPI, CPI-M, Samajwadi Party, National Conference, AIMIM, RJD and AIUDF.
Five regional parties considered nonaligned - TRS, BJD. AAP, SAD and YSRCP - stayed away. The ruling BJP-led combine has over 48 per cent vote share in the electoral college to pick the new president, and its candidate has a clear advantage over the opposition. Reading out the joint statement, Ramesh said the parties have appealed to all political parties to support Sinha as president so the country could have a worthy ‘Rashtrapati’ elected unopposed. His party colleague Mallikarjun Kharge said Defence Minister Rajnath Singh had called him and a few other leaders to ask whether they had a name for the top constitutional post. “This was just for the sake of contacting, This cannot be termed a serious effort," Kharge said.
Sinha’s name came up after Pawar, Gopalkrishna Gandhi and Farooq Abdullah declined the opposition’s offer to be their joint candidate for the top post. The presidential election would be held on July 18 to elect a successor to incumbent Ram Nath Kovind and the result would be out on July 21 .