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Guessing game on President pick continues; BJP to name its candidate tomorrow
By Our Correspondent, 19/06/2017, New Delhi

The BJP Parliamentary Board is likely to meet here on Tuesday to finalise the ruling NDA's candidate for the July 17 Presidential election, sources said. The NDA nominee is likely to file his/her nomination on June 23, a day before Prime Minister Narendra Modi leaves for the US.

The BJP has asked its key Union ministers and senior leaders to remain in the national capital over the next few days to be proposers and seconders for the nomination. The party has prepared four sets, each comprising 60 proposers and an equal number of seconders. The party has also called a meeting of its MPs to brief them about the polling process.

Meanwhile, hectic parleys for consensus continued through the day. Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, who is part of a three-member ministerial team tasked to consult Opposition parties, spoke to top TMC and BJD leaders.

Sources said that Samajwadi Party leaders Ram Gopal Yadav and Naresh Agarwal met Union I&B Minister Venkaiah Naidu and reportedly conveyed that they will prefer a political person to be nominated. Naidu and Home Minister Rajnath Singh are the two other members on the BJP panel to explore consensus.

Naidu also spoke to BJP ally and Union Minister Ram Vilas Paswan, who assured him of his party LJP's support to the BJP's choice.

Paswan said the PM Modi be given free hand to choose the next President. He criticised the Opposition for rejecting a consensus candidate.

Naidu later briefed BJP chief Amit Shah on the talks, sources said. The three ministers met BJP patriarch LK Advani and Dr Murli Manohar Joshi on Friday for their suggestions.

Sources said that Advani declined to be drawn into any discussion and told them that he had no name to recommend. Senior BJP leader Shatrughan Sinha has been openly lobbying for Advani as the next President, but that is unlikely to happen.

Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad said that with the government not mentioning any names, there was no headway. During their meeting with top CPM functionaries, the ministers were point-blank informed that any hardcore member of the RSS would not be acceptable. However, again in the absence of any concrete nominees, the discussions remained inconclusive.

Azad said that the ministers were having consultations to create an impression that the government was making an attempt to get the Opposition on board. "But they dropped enough hints seeking our nod to allow Modi to choose the candidate," he said.

Many Congress leaders feel that that they could back the official candidate, provided he is known to uphold the constitutional values. But they want the government to back their candidate for the Vice President's post. The government is, however, confident of getting the candidates for both posts to win.

Two of the ministers had independently spoken to former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister and BSP supremo Mayawati, besides contacting JD (U)'s Nitish Kumar, NCP's Sharad Pawar and TDP's Chandrababu Naidu. While Naidu said that he would support the government's candidate, Pawar and Nitish Kumar did not commit themselves, preferring to wait for a few more days. The AIADMK factions have also communicated that they would adhere by the official choice of the BJP.

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