In July 2002, APJ Abdul Kalam became the choice for President as the ruling Atal Behari Vajpayee-led National Democratic Alliance did not have enough votes to get anyone from its ideological family elected. Fifteen years later, the NDA led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi was much better placed yet it tried for a consensus pick. Though there was consensus, the NDA candidate Ram Nath Kovind got the support of friendly regional parties. This year, the NDA will once again require the support of friendly parties to get its choice elected as the 15th President of India. It may make an effort towards consensus, though it is likely to be dismissed as tokenism by the Opposition. President Kovind will complete his tenure on July 24. A President who often insisted on following constitutional morality, Kovind has had a successful and controversy-free tenure so far. He made 29 foreign visits till December and rejected all seven mercy petitions that came before him. The official website says that he has discharged his duties with foresight and humility.
Kovind was a surprise pick but fit well into the BJP’s outreach to Dalits. He was only the second Dalit to occupy the post after KR Narayanan. There is already much discussion regarding whether Kovind will get NDA’s backing for the second term. Given Modi’s style of secrecy, no one is willing to guess. Gubernatorial appointments are another indication of Modi’s style of functioning. In eight years of NDA rule, most of the Governors have been replaced after a five-year term so that veteran politicians could be rewarded with the post. While leaders who are 75 or older are not part of the union cabinet, there are half a dozen Governors who are over 80. Kovind himself is 76. Vice President Venkaiah Naidu’s tenure will also be over by August. Naidu has been an active vice president, commenting on the government’s policies, and pushing and praising it. As Rajya Sabha chair, Naidu has been a stickler for the rulebook and has managed the house amid incessant protest. He has also not shied away from commenting on social issues like when he lashed out against hate speech in January.
The political landscape has changed much since 2017. The BJP has lost allies like the Shiv Sena, the Akali Dal, and the Telugu Desam Party. But, the party’s recent good showing in Uttar Pradesh, Goa, and Manipur has put the BJP-led NDA in a comfortable position, though short of a majority. The gap to the halfway mark though has widened after the BJP lost seats in multiple states. For example, the 312 seats it had in UP in 2017 have fallen to 255. However, the BJP has also gained 60 MPs in both houses since 2017. The party is expected to gain more in the Rajya Sabha as 75 seats will go to the polls before the presidential election. Nevertheless, the ruling party will still need support to get the President of its choice as it needs around one percent more for a majority. As the number stands, unless the joint Opposition can wean away BJP-friendly parties, its nominees stand no chance. However, the election would be politically significant as it would provide the anti-BJP parties an arena to test their affinity for an alliance ahead of the 2024 general elections.