Sharad Pawar is likely to turn down an offer to run for President, amid signs that he could emerge as the opposition’s candidate for the July 18 election to India’s top post.
“I am not in the race, I will not be opposition candidate for the President’s post,” Sharad Pawar reportedly said at a meeting of his Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) in Mumbai last evening.
The 81-year-old former Union Minister has, however, not conveyed his formal denial to the Congress, which reportedly reached out to him with the suggestion last week.
Mr Pawar is reluctant because he is not confident that the opposition can rack up the numbers needed to push its candidate, sources say. “He is not inclined to contest a losing battle,” they said.
The opposition took big blows in recent Rajya Sabha elections, especially in Maharashtra, where the BJP scored a seat defeating Shiv Sena’s Sanjay Pawar. The BJP managed to get its candidate elected by several independent MLAs who had promised to back the Sena.
Mr Pawar’s Maharashtra allies, the Congress and Shiv Sena, reportedly want him as the opposition’s consensus candidate for President.
Senior Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge met with Mr Pawar at his Mumbai home last Thursday, with a message from party chief Sonia Gandhi, say sources.
On Sunday, the NCP leader received a call from Sanjay Singh, a leader of Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).
Mallikarjun Kharge also spoke with Shiv Sena chief and Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin.
The Congress also reached out to West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who has called for an opposition meeting at the Constitution Club in Delhi on Wednesday to discuss a joint strategy for the presidential election. Mr Kharge spoke to Ms Banerjee on the phone.
Elections will be held on July 18 for the next President of India and counting, if needed, will be held three days later. President Ram Nath Kovind’s term ends on July 24.
Mr Pawar, one of India’s seniormost politicians, helped make and break many coalition governments over the past few decades.
He crafted Maharashtra’s ruling coalition, bringing together the ideologically-opposed Shiv Sena and the Congress to thwart the BJP’s bid for power.
The presidential polls are based on an electoral college comprising the votes of MLAs and MPs. Some 4,809 electors – both MPs and MLAs – will vote to elect the new President of India.
The vote value of each MLA depends on the population of a state and the number of assembly seats.
The total strength of the electoral college is 10,86,431. Any candidate who crosses 50 per cent votes wins.
The BJP and its allies are 13,000 votes short of the majority mark.
In 2017, the ruling coalition had the support of the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) of K Chandrashekar Rao, the YSR Congress of YS Jagan Mohan Reddy and the BJD of Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik. In a critical difference this time round, Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao, or KCR, is leading efforts to gather opposition forces to take on the BJP jointly.