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Earnest race for Raisina Hills begins

With less than three months to go for Pranab Mukherjee to complete his term as President of the country, the race for Raisina Hills has begun in earnest. With Mukherjee making it clear that he is not interested in a second term, both the ruling NDA and the Opposition have begun strategizing on the crucial polls.

Only recently Congress president Sonia Gandhi held backroom talks with Opposition parties to explore the possibilities of putting up a joint candidate against the BJP-led nominee. Though nothing concrete has emerged from the informal discussions, the Congress is well aware that even after the assembly poll victories in UP and Uttarakhand, the NDA is still short of close to 20,000 votes to install its nominee in Raisina Hills.

In such a scenario, BJP baiters like Mamata Banerjee, Naveen Patnaik and Nitish Kumar, who together control a huge chunk of votes, have emerged as key players in the presidential race. On Thursday, Patnaik said his party, the BJD, was capable of taking on the BJP in his state.

Both Mamata and Naveen Patnaik are extremely peeved with PM Narendra Modi and his brand of politics. While the Bengal chief minister feels that the BJP has been using central agencies like the CBI and the ED to silence the Trinamool Congress’s criticism of the BJP and its policies, Naveen Patnaik is trying to stave off a bid by the BJP to storm his citadel. Both the regional leaders are desperate to form a front of opposition parties to take on the BJP during the presidential election.

The Left, which is a depleted force now, could also pitch in. The CPI(M)’s Sitaram Yechury has only recently said that his party will always bat for a “secular” candidate.

Sources told FPJ the RSS is keen that the next President should have strong links with the organisation. “Let the opposition parties do whatever they want to, we will surely have someone steeped in our ideology in Rashtrapati Bhavan,” said an RSS leader who did not wish to be named.

Though all the parties are keeping their cards close to their chest, the NDA is said to be preparing a short-list of candidates for the President’s post. Sources said that two names in this list are that of Lok Sabha Speaker Pratibha Patil and Jharkhand Governor Draupadi Murmu, a tribal. UP Governor Ram Naik is also believed to be

in the race. As far as the BJP and its allies are concerned, there is no doubt that the final call will be taken by Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. And who knows, a dark horse may well emerge.

How india elects its president

* The upcoming presidential polls may turn out to be the closest electoral contest since 1969, when VV Giri faced off with Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy.

* President is elected by the electoral college which comprises both MPs and MLAs, and each vote weighs in accordance with proportional representation. While all MP votes bear equal value, the weightage of MLA votes differs.

* President Pranab Mukherjee on Saturday offered prayers at the Badrinath temple in Uttarakhand as its portals were reopened after the six-month winter break.

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