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Could This Man Be India's Next President?

By SUNIL GATADE, VENKATESH KESARI
June 21, 2022 09:35 IST
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Sunil Gatade and Venkatesh Kesari reveal that Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar's name is now doing the rounds as President Kovind's likely successor.

IMAGE: Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar with young mountaineer Heyansh Kumar -- who hoisted the Tricolour at the base camp of Mount Everest -- in Gurugram on Monday, June 20, 2022. Photograph: ANI Photo
 

Till the other day, the Presidential election scheduled for July 18 was seen as a tame affair for the prime minister who had just to name a loyalist who could take over from President Ram Nath Kovind, whose term in office ends on July 24.

Bharatiya Janata Party leaders have been saying that the ruling National Democratic Alliance already has close to 50 per cent of votes in the electoral college.

The alliance is hopeful of getting support from independent regional parties like the ruling Yuvajana Sramika Rythu Congress Party in Andhra Pradesh and the incumbent Biju Janata Dal in Odisha.

The BJP is also counting on support from the AIADMK, its ally in Tamil Nadu.

With senior Aam Aadmi Party leader Satyender Jain in jail in a money laundering case, Arvind Kejriwal's AAP is unlikely to side with the NDA in the Presidential poll.

With assembly polls in Telangana scheduled next year, Telangana Rashtriya Samithi supremo and Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao too cannot afford to support the NDA candidate.

Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar's name is now doing the rounds as Kovind's likely successor.

If there was one man instrumental in making the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh pracharak Haryana CM eight years go, it was his old friend from their Sangh days, Narendra Damodardas Modi.

Khattar is Haryana's first Punjabi speaking CM whose community numbers less than 8 per cent in a state dominated by Jat leaders.

Modi still has time on hand to get his strategy right as the Opposition has so far failed to throw up a candidate for the Presidential poll.

IMAGE: Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar of the Janata Dal-United and former Bihar deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party with JD-U candidates Afaque Ahmad and Ravindra Prasad and BJP candidates Hari Sahni and Anil Sharma Singh after filing their nomination papers for the MLC election, at the Vidhan Sabha, in Patna, June 9, 2022. Photograph: ANI Photo

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, whose name had cropped up from nowhere last month as a likely candidate in the Presidential election, could play a spoiler in Modi's plan to have a loyalist succeed Kovind.

While not a word has been said so openly, the war of words between the BJP in Bihar and Nitish Kumar's party, the Janata Dal-United, after last week's violent protests in the state over the controversial Agnipath scheme sounds ominous.

Bihar has been the state worst hit by the violence over the scheme which saw several trains being set ablaze at railway stations in the state.

The JD-U, it must be recalled, went against its coalition partner in the 2012 and 2017 Presidential elections.

In 2012, despite then being part of the National Democratic Alliance, the JD-U voted for United Progressive Alliance candidate Pranab Mukherjee.

In 2017, the JD-U, then a part of the Mahagathbandan in Bihar, had given the UPA a jolt by voting for NDA candidate Ram Nath Kovind, then the Bihar governor.

The Mahagathbandan had then included the JD-U, the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Congress.

The JD-U currently has 21 MPs and 45 MLAs in the Bihar assembly.

There were reports that Defence Minister Rajnath Singh spoke to Nitish Kumar last week.

Singh and BJP president Jagat Prakash Nadda have been asked to contact NDA allies and other political parties on the Presidential election.

It is not clear though whether Rajnath's brief telephone conversation with Nitish Kumar was about the Agnipath scheme, which appears to have angered sections of Bihar's youth, or the next Rashtrapati.

After the BJP, the JD-U is the largest party in the NDA after the Shiv Sena walked out of the ruling alliance nearly three years ago.

Even though Bihar BJP President Dr Sanjay Jaiswal has not directly named the chief minister, he has charged the Nitish Kumar administration with being a silent spectator when BJP offices in the state as also the homes of some of its leaders including Dr Jaiswal were targeted by youth furious about the Agnipath scheme.

Bihar JD-U chief Rajiv Ranjan hit back, bluntly telling the BJP not to teach Nitish Kumar administration.

The announcement of the Agnipath scheme has come at a difficult time for the Bihar BJP which was sought to be cornered by Nitish Kumar only recently on the issue of a caste census.

IMAGE: Security personnel in a scuffle with activists during a protest against the Agnipath scheme during the Bharat Bandh in Patna, June 20, 2022. Photograph: PTI Photo

Last week, the JD-U suspended four of its leaders, including its spokesperson Dr Ajay Alok, for anti-party activities.

Reports quoting unnamed JD-U sources had it that the four leaders were 'close' to senior JD -U leader and Union Minister R C P Singh, who was been recently denied re-nomination to the Rajya Sabha.

R C P Singh may soon have to resign from Prime Minister Modi's Cabinet as his Rajya Sabha term ends on July 7.

Singh, once the most powerful man in the JD-U after Nitish, has grown close to the BJP after being appointed a Cabinet minister last July.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com

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SUNIL GATADE, VENKATESH KESARI
 
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