Battle of attrition begins on President's election

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A BJP panel today met top leaders of the Congress and the Left and consulted party veteran L K Advani on the upcoming presidential election, but its reluctance to name candidates prompted the opposition to question the exercise aimed at evolving a broad consensus on the issue.

Singh and Naidu, who are part of a BJP panel to work out a consensus on the presidential nominee, met Yechury as part of its efforts to reach out to the opposition.

Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad, who was present at their meeting with Sonia Gandhi, divulged details of what happened. "A few of the NDA allies have already conveyed to the BJP panel that they would abide by the decision of the Prime Minister for Presidential election".

CPI-M General Secretary Sitaram Yechury on Friday expressed dismay over the government not suggesting a name for presidential candidate and said the question of cooperation will arise only when the ruling dispensation comes out with a name. Instead, Azad said they asked for a name if Sonia was to offer one to the ministers.

The BJP patriarch declined to be drawn into any discussion and told them in plain words that he had no name to recommend and therefore there could not be any further conversation on the subject. "They don't want consensus, they want cooperation, " Kharge added. This will be after the PM and BJP brass finalises their choice or choices- on the basis of consultations that has been going on with other parties including the opposition parties.

Union ministers Venkaiah Naidu and Rajnath Singh went round the national capital on Friday, meeting one political heavyweight after the other to build consensus around the Presidential candidate, but surprisingly didn't propose any name. At a recent meeting of Opposition parties, the CPI (M) and RJD said the fight should be seen as an ideological one against the BJP.

Yechury also reminded them that except for one occasion - when Neelam Sanjiva Reddy was named President in 1977 - the post was always decided after a contest. Similarly, Sushma Swaraj's name has suddenly found support in several quarters and sources said that the Congress too would find her to be an acceptable choice.

Naidu explained the objectives of the consultation process to the opposition leaders, saying that the prime minister and the BJP chief wished for such discussions before the candidate was finalised and were keen to seek the views of the parties and their support. "After all, our government is safe in the hands of the BJP", another minister said.

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"They (the government) wanted our suggestion".

The Shiv Sena which has been pushing for Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat as the next President, said a "Hindutva rubber stamp" should be installed at Rashtrapati Bhavan.

"We had expected that they would suggest some name which we could have seriously considered".

Stating that the party leaders were not aware of any such proposal, the source said it would have been in the fitness of things had the BJP first sent a formal proposal.

The Congress leader said the BJP was seeking cooperation but his party did not know what is on their mind.

Singh and Naidu are part of the three-member team constituted by Bharatiya Janata Party President Amit Shah for discussion with political parties for the presidential polls. Barring the Left Front, nearly all parties including Congress supported Kalam's candidature.

Criticising the BJP for not naming possible candidates, Yechury called the talks "more of a PR exercise" and reiterated the person occupying the president's post had to be an individual with "impeccable" secular credentials.

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