POLITICS

2019 Calculations May Decide BJP’s Choices For President, Vice President

Means to an end.

16/06/2017 9:18 AM IST | Updated 16/06/2017 9:18 AM IST

The unexpected is widely expected. The Modi government likes to surprise, keeping its cards close to its chest until it has to play them. We will know the name of the BJP's nominee for the post of President of India on 23 June and it may be none of the names in speculation until 22 June.

What we can be sure of is that the BJP's choice of President and Vice President will be decided by its 2019 calculations. The Modi government takes decisions with sharp political calculations in mind.

The Sonia Gandhi-led Congress made Pratibha Patil and Pranab Mukherjee presidents keeping internal party politics in mind. An all-powerful Narendra Modi doesn't need to assuage any hurt egos in the party – there is no compulsion for him to make Sushma Swaraj or LK Advani or Murli Manohar Joshi the President. Should he still do so, it would purely be out of political calculations, such as signalling Brahmin voters or sending a message over the Ram Mandir issue.

An all-powerful Narendra Modi doesn't need to assuage any hurt egos in the party – there is no compulsion for him to make Sushma Swaraj or LK Advani or Murli Manohar Joshi the President.

The BJP would not like to make presidential and vice-presidential elections an opportunity for the fragmented opposition to come together. Yet it does not have to appease the opposition either. It doesn't need to – it will make the 50% mark in the electoral college easily with the help of regional allies.

To the extent that the Modi government's choice for the prestigious posts will be political, it would be revealing of how it is reading the political mood leading up to the 2019 general elections.

It makes eminent political sense for the Modi establishment to choose a Dalit-adivasi duo. Modi likes to be known for firsts, and having India's first tribal president would be a huge message to tribal voters in central India who largely vote for Congress. Especially in the Gujarat assembly elections this year, the BJP is trying to make inroads amongst tribal voters. While this government likes to surprise, the name of Draupadi Murmu makes complete sense.

AFP/Getty Images
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (L) is received by Chief Minister of Jharkhand Raghubar Das (R) as Jharkhand Governor Draupadi Murmu (C) looks on at Birsa Munda International Airport in Ranchi on June 28, 2015.

Currently the Governor of Jharkhand, she is an adivasi from Odisha. Elevating her to Rashtrapati Bhawan would also help the BJP's push to form government in the next Odisha assembly elections, apart from generally targeting the tribal vote in Odisha, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat.

The BJP's run-ins with Dalit politics, be it the recent violence in Saharanpur or the Rohith Vemula suicide or the Una lynchings by gau rakshaks, have given it a grave cause for concern in targeting Dalit voters. A Dalit president or vice president would thus also make good political sense.

The BJP's need to target Dalit and tribal voters is to be seen in the larger context of it wanting to change its image from a Brahmin-Baniya party to a party of the poor. Dalits and tribals, poorest of the poor, have been impressed with demonetisation, but also need reaching out in terms of caste identity-based representation.

Whoever Modi helps become India's next president, will be revealing of party president Amit Shah's electoral strategies for the next two years.

In several states, the BJP's caste game has been to polarise Hindu voters not just against Muslims but also the dominant caste of power. It was Jats in Haryana, Yadavs in Bihar and soon it will be with Patels in Gujarat. For this reason, too, it needs to target Dalit and tribal voters concretely.

But of course, one must expect the unexpected. Perhaps it won't be an Adivasi or Dalit Rashtrapati. Whoever Modi helps become India's next president, will be revealing of party president Amit Shah's electoral strategies for the next two years.

The President will be elected on 17 July.

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