New Delhi: The opposition’s presidential candidate Yashwant Sinha has claimed that he agrees with Trinamool Congress (TMC) chief Mamata Banerjee’s stance that Droupadi Murmu, the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance’s pick for the position, could have earned the backing of all parties had consensus been sought from them.
In an interview to ThePrint, Sinha said that the reason that an election was happening at all for the post of President reflected a “failure” on the part of the BJP.
“I agree with Mamata Banerjee. There should have been a consensus candidate,” Sinha, who resigned from the TMC ahead of the presidential polls, said. He was referring to his former party chief’s apparently softening stance on Murmu, who could become India’s first tribal woman President.
Mamata, who had played a major role in promoting Sinha as the presidential nominee of over a dozen Opposition parties, had raised eyebrows on 1 July when she said Murmu could have been the consensus candidate instead, if the BJP had consulted her. She added there would have been a discussion at an all-party meeting, had the BJP divulged its choice of candidate. The Presidential election will be held on 18 July.
Even as political speculation is rife that Mamata’s assertion might have been an attempt to appeal to the tribal electorate in Bengal, Sinha said that the “dignity” of the post of President was such that perhaps there should not have been any election involved.
‘Perhaps there should have been no election…’
The ruling BJP and opposition parties could have “sat together and worked out a consensus” had there been an opportunity to do so, Sinha said.
“I’ve said in the past that the post of President is such a dignified post that perhaps there should have been no election… So, Mamata Banerjee has said nothing that is unwelcome. It is the failure of the ruling party that for this highest constitutional post, there is going to be an election,” he said.
Sinha emphasised that there’s a reason why there’s no party whip during the presidential elections, and that MPs and MLAs cast votes in a secret ballot. He added that he believes, therefore, that any party announcing blanket support to any candidate may not be an accurate estimation of how many votes each candidate will get.
“If the Constitution wanted it otherwise, then it would have stated that what the Election Commission or the Rajya Sabha secretary should do is call the heads of all the political parties registered with the EC, ask them for their views and decide who has won and the President would have been elected. But this is not the provision,” Sinha said.
“In this election, whips are strictly forbidden because the rules of the Constitution envisage that elected representatives of the people — MPs and MLAs — will exercise their mind.”
The response he has received while touring non-BJP ruled states had been “overwhelming”, Sinha added.
Opposition divided over Murmu?
Sinha disagreed that Murmu’s tribal background could split votes of some opposition parties, like the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), which bank on adivasi politics. The tribal states of Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand were created under the Vajpayee government of which he was a part, the opposition presidential candidate said.
“Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand are neighbours with a similar population profile. I went to Chhattisgarh and met the CM and the cabinet, which included a large number of people from the Scheduled Tribes. None of them had any doubt that they should reconsider voting for me because the candidate on the other side has a certain identity,” Sinha said.
The identity politics pertaining to Murmu is the “BJP’s publicity” which “does not cut ice anywhere”, he claimed.
The opposition should be lauded as all parties came together and declared their candidate before the NDA, he added. “They’re a monolith. Only one person takes the decision. Then, why did they have to wait? Why didn’t they declare their candidate first?”
Sinha also rubbished the suggestion that his fight is symbolic despite the numbers stacked in favour of the NDA.
“This is not a symbolic fight. The BJP is trying to make it a symbolic fight by only discussing the identity of the candidate,” said Sinha. “For us in the opposition, it is not a contest between two identities, but a contest between two ideologies.”
(Edited by Tony Rai)