Behind Yashwant Sinha’s re-emergence as Oppn’s Presidential face: Mamata, Pawar & Cong retreat

The proposal for Yashwant Sinha‘s candidature as the joint Opposition’s candidate for the July 18 Presidential election was first floated as a trial baloon days ahead of the first meeting of the Opposition parties, which was convened by the West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress (TMC) supremo, Mamata Banerjee, in Delhi on June 15.

But despite being keen on pushing party leader Sinha’s name as the Opposition’s Presidential nominee, the TMC quietly lowered its pitch, having realised that a consensus was more likely to emerge around the candidature of NCP supremo Sharad Pawar, with even the risk-averse AAP making a dash to pledge support for him.

At the June 15 meeting of 17 Opposition parties at the Constitution Club, Pawar’s “no” to his candidature proposal threw a spanner in their works. The meeting ended with the parties proposing to field a candidate who can “serve as the custodian of the Constitution and stop the Modi government from doing further damage to the country’s democracy and social fabric”.

The statement framed their exercise, but the search for their consensus Presidential face continued. Despite taking the lead, Banerjee agreed to let Pawar steer the initiative, having realised the Maratha stalwart’s wider acceptability among a wider range of parties.

However, with National Conference (NC) president Farooq Abdullah, among the two alternative names to have surfaced in the June 15 meeting, also opting out saying he had a lot more active politics ahead of him, only former diplomat and Bengal governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi was left in contention.

Amid indications that the parties would endorse Gopalkrihna’s name, with some even eager to frame the July 18 poll as the “Gandhi vs Godse” contest from an ideological viewpoint, he also turned down the proposal, saying there are others who can better generate a “national consensus and a national atmosphere, besides Opposition unity”.

For Banerjee, it was an opportune moment to bring Sinha’s name back to the table. However, instead of her taking the lead, Pawar worked the phones, bringing leaders like Delhi CM and AAP supremo Arvind Kejriwal and Telangana CM and TRS chief K Chandrashekar Rao on board over his candidature.

For the Congress, which is already embattled with Rahul Gandhi facing marathon rounds of questioning by the ED at a time Sonia Gandhi is unwell too, taking a backseat over the issue was more a matter of compulsion than a choice. This however helped Pawar and Mamata get the endorsement of parties like the AAP and the TRS for Sinha’s candidature, while making the elbow room to reach out to other regional parties like the Andhra Pradesh CM Jagan Mohan Reddy-headed YSRCP and the Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik-led BJD.

By taking a position unlike the 2017 Presidential poll, when it had led from the front in ensuring a consensus among the Opposition parties around ex-Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar’s nomination, the grand old party also sought to project “large-heartedness” for the sake of a large Opposition unity in the run-up to the 2024 general elections.

“We assure the people of India that the unity of Opposition parties which has been forged by the Presidential election in a spirit of equality, common commitment and consensus building through dialogue, will be better consolidated in the months ahead,” said the joint statement read out by Congress leader Jairam Ramesh after the finalisation of Sinha’s candidature at Tuesday’s Pawar-convened meeting of Opposition leaders, which also reflected the above objective.

The Left parties, meanwhile, made it clear that they would support Sinha, provided he steps down from his current position as the TMC vice-president. And Sinha did that ahead of Tuesday’s meeting, thereby obtaining their support too. “We did not want to get isolated by not supporting his name,” said a Left leader.

Sources said Pawar will speak to Jagan Mohan Reddy and Naveen Patnaik in the coming days. In the unlikely scenario of the BJD and the YSRCP backing Sinha, the BJP’s Presidential calculations may get upset a little.

The Opposition camp is now set to constitute a steering committee and entrust it with the task of campaigning and rallying support for Sinha, who is likely to file his nomination on June 27, following which he will start visiting states across the country.

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