Three top sources from the RSS & BJP have told News 18 that External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj has emerged as the front runner to become NDA’s presidential candidate. Swaraj qualifies in every criteria laid down by the BJP top brass and also has the endorsement of the Sangh, they said. Swaraj’s name could figure in Friday’s meeting between BJP and the opposition to build consensus ahead of the presidential elections.

Home Minister Rajnath Singh, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and I&B Minister Venkaiah Naidu are to meet Congress president Sonia Gandhi and CPM’s Sitaram Yechury in this regard on Friday.  A top BJP leader said that the party did not consider fielding an apolitical candidate just to build a consensus. The leader also said that Sushma Swaraj was the hot favorite for the post because of her popularity among the regional parties.

Swaraj is a seven-time MP and three-time MLA, grew up in a family of Swayamsevaks. She is a respected party member who has a had a long stint in politics. Even as an External Affairs Minister, Swaraj’s work has been appreciated. She is very active on Social media & has been one of the most approachable ministers in the Modi Cabinet. Other names that were doing the rounds were Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan & Jharkhand Governor Draupadi Murmu.

An RSS Leader said that senior BJP leader MM Joshi was also considered, but since he was chargesheeted in the Babri demolition case along with party veteran LK Advani, both of them missed out. Sushma Swaraj’s moderate image means that most of the opposition parties may accept her as President. A BJP source told News 18 that the NDA candidate is likely to file nomination before June 24, when PM Modi leaves for an official visit to the US.

Swaraj is respected across all political circles. Her return to the Parliament after a six-month break witnessed leaders from all political parties stand up as a mark of respect. She had returned after a kidney transplant. Swaraj became a minister in the Haryana cabinet at the age of 25. She is considered to be one of the best orators in the Parliament. Swaraj has held other top posts such as Delhi CM, I&B Minister, Union Health Minister & the Leader of Opposition in the past.

While convincing regional parties may be relatively easy for the BJP, convincing the Congress is going to be a herculean task. Swaraj has had the unique distinction of taking on both Indira & Sonia Gandhi in electoral battles. Hitting out at Indira Gandhi, Sushma Swaraj had once compared her to Kaikeyi. In 1999 Swaraj was nominated to contest against Sonia Gandhi from Bellary constituency in Karnataka. Swaraj lost the election, but continued to hit out at the Sonia Gandhi led UPA government.

The Congress will be out of the equation if all other parties agree on Swaraj’s name. I&B Venkaiah Naidu had said that the BJP led government would try their best to create a consensus among all parties, as this was not a party election. “We will try our best. After all, we have to elect the President of India, and not a party President,” he said.

The opposition parties have already met thrice on the issue. First meeting took place at Sonia Gandhi’s residence, which was not attended by Bihar CM Nitish Kumar. The second meeting was held on DMK supremo Karunanidhi’s birthday in Chennai on June 4. The third and the most recent meeting was held in New Delhi on June 14. Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha, Ghulam Nabi Azad, after the third meeting said that the opposition parties had not finalized a name yet.

The BJP seems confident though. The total value of votes in the presidential election is 10,98,503 – 5,49,408 for MPs and 5,49,495 for MLAs. The value of each MP vote is fixed at 708. MLA vote values differ from state to state. The NDA is running short by 18,000 votes. If the NDA receives the backing of Tamil Nadu’s AIADMK, it will easily get past the halfway mark.

Source: News 18


Alok Shetty

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