Who will be the next occupant of Rashtrapati Bhawan?

Lakshmana Venkat Kuchi
India will shortly have a new President and Vice-President, as the two incumbents are unlikely to be re-nominated, going by the talk in the power corridors.
But theoretically, there exists a chance that Prime Minister Narendra Modi may yet spring a surprise on everyone by retaining President Ramnath Kovind, giving him a consecutive second term that no President of Independent India other than the first President, Dr Rajendra Prasad, got.
At a time when there is a lot of speculation with few names making the rounds, political analysts one has spoken to, Modi may surprise everyone, yet again.
It is of course a foregone conclusion that the ruling BJP and the NDA coalition it leads, will win the Presidential poll with ease, as also the polls for Vice President, that are also due shortly. The nominees of the ruling coalition are assured of an easy victory after independent regional political formations like Andhra Pradesh’s YSRCP, Odisha’s Biju Janata Dal and Bihar’s Janata Dal United, are believed to have promised their support. After its recent victories in assembly elections, including in Uttar Pradesh, the BJP itself is sitting pretty in the electoral college for the President polls as compared to a combined opposition. But the fact that the opposition is hardly combined, makes the job of the BJP and NDA that much easier.
Yes, there are political initiatives from leaders like West Bengal chief minister and TMC leader Mamata Banerjee to field a common opposition candidate, but few influential regional parties have kept away from her efforts on a common candidate. Why the politics behind the Presidential poll becomes more significant is because it gives solid pointers to the shape and direction the future course of politics takes in the country.
It can be very safely said, now, that the BJP that has become a stable pole of Indian politics much like the Congress of yore and as such will continue to coast home, unless it makes a series of severe political blunders. Of this, there is no evidence, and if not anything, it is the Congress that seems to be giving the game to the BJP on a platter.
Losing every election, it is fighting, the Congress is still to get itself onto the revival track, and with each passing election, it seems to be getting tougher and tougher for the party that appears to be on the declining stage.
In the tragedy of the Congress lies the BJP’s strength and the ruling party is losing no chance to ensure that its principal rival continues to languish. And it is to the BJP’s advantage that the Congress has ceded ground to regional formations in state after state, starting from Tamil Nadu, astonishingly for political commentators, never succeeded in winning back states from regional parties.
Yes, the Congress did wrest Andhra Pradesh from Telugu Desam Party after a nine-month-old party trounced the country’s oldest party, but after its inexplicable decision to split the state into two, the Congress lost out to two regional formations dominant there. So, it would really surprise people, even Congress well-wishers whose number may be dwindling, if the party manages to revive itself and take on an aggressive, the wealthiest and the most political savvy and the best election fighting, and winning entity called the BJP.
Even though the Congress, is still the only pan-India party with a brand name that can potentially revive and challenge the ruling dispensation at the centre, the rest of the opposition parties do not show great enthusiasm to partner with it, even in finding a common candidate to field for Presidential poll. Even in this, it is Mamata Bannerjee who has taken the lead, even after knowing that the opposition candidate was bound to lose. It is perhaps because of this only that veteran national leader and politician from Maharashtra, Sharad Pawar politely declined to contest the Presidential polls. President Ramnath Kovind is set to retire on July 24, 2022, and the next President is scheduled to be sworn in the following day. Even if the candidate is Kovind himself, and he wins, he must take oath of office and secrecy once again.
For the record, the BJP faces a slight shortfall in the electoral college for the Presidential poll. But, with assurances of support coming in from three regional parties, the BJP or rather the NDA’s candidate will have a smooth sailing. Out of the total 1,098, 903 votes in the electoral college, the BJP has 465,797 votes and its alliance partners have 71,329. Political analysts are sure that it will comfortably make up the shortfall of a little over 9,000 votes with the support of regional parties like YSRCP, BJD and JD (U). In fact, many expected even the Telangana Rashtra Samiti, the ruling party of Telangana, may also eventually go with the ruling dispensation.
It is this kind of fragmentation of the opposition vote that will perpetuate the BJP’s election-winning ways for the foreseeable future.
And the Presidential race is but just one of the polls for which the BJP is already ready.
But still, the BJP would like to try for unanimity for the Presidential poll and it has begun talking to the opposition regarding a consensus candidate. So far, since Independence there has been only one consensus candidate who won the Presidential poll without any election – Sanjiva Reddy. But going by the tone and tenor of the political parties, consensus is unlikely to emerge.
The opposition has so far failed to come out with any one name that is acceptable to all of them, and more important a name that is acceptable to the owner of that name. West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee knows that odds are stacked against the opposition, but still is making efforts to unite the opposition, aiming at 2024. She is demonstrating that among the opposition parties, she was very well placed to be the uniting factor to take on the BJP in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.
From the ruling party, no names have emerged so far for the Presidential polls, but the front runner appears to be Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu, a senior leader from South India, a former BJP president and a successful cabinet minister. His handling of the Rajya Sabha too has come in for praise, and he is known for his ready wit, humour, and sagacity.
Then there are many political pundits who swear that this time around, it is going to be a tribal leader who is going to be occupying the Rashtrapati Bhavan, come July 25, 2022
Lakshmana Venkat Kuchi is a senior journalist tracking social, economic, and political changes across the country. He was associated with the Press Trust of India, The Hindu, Sunday Observer and Hindustan Times.  He can be reached on [email protected] and Twitter handle @kvlakshman