By Quaid Najmi
Mumbai, May 8 (IANS): As the first calculated moves begin for the Presidential elections due in July, the main political parties in Maharashtra, the ruling Maha Vikas Aghadi allies Shiv Sena-Nationalist Congress Party-Congress, and the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, have adopted a 'wait-and-watch attitude.
For the real drama will unfold at the Centre with the national Opposition parties comprising the Congress and others, which are expected to finalise the Presidential poll strategy, taking into confidence the state or regional forces, vis-a-vis the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) candidate.
Last December, Trinamool Congress supremo and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, and later in February Telangana Rashtra Samithi founder and Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao had travelled to Mumbai to meet the MVA leaders.
One of the points touched upon by both Banerjee and Rao with Shiv Sena President and Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray as well as NCP President Sharad Pawar was the ensuing Presidential elections.
"The visiting leaders agreed that there is a need to put up a united Opposition candidate against the BJP-NDA nominee for the President's post... That could be the confidence builder for a united Opposition challenge to the BJP in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections," a senior NCP leader said.
"As far as the Sena is concerned, it will go by the decision of MVA and the national Opposition parties... Things are still at a preliminary stage and will pick up momentum by early-June," said a prominent Sena leader.
Similar is the stand of the Congress, which will go by the party high command's decision and act as directed, a party leader made it clear.
Ditto will be the stance of the Opposition BJP in Maharashtra, which would follow the Central leadership and NDA directives only.
Though Pawar, 81, has repeatedly ruled himself out as a possible contender for the President's post, political sources hint that there may be many a slip between the cup and lip and nothing can be discounted.
In recent past, there has been speculation of the BJP making an offer of friendship to Pawar, or even make amends by making him a consensus candidate for the President's post, but the wily Maratha supremo has pooh-poohed all such talks.
Nevertheless, in December 2021, Pawar had revealed how Prime Minister Narendra Modi wanted the NCP to join hands with the BJP in Maharashtra after the 2019 Assembly elections, but he had spurned the offer coming from his self-professed ‘shishya'.
Presently, besides Pawar, there are a couple of Congress leaders and at least one Sena leader -- all in their early-to-mid 80s -- of stature with national political experience and acceptability, who could fit the Presidential shoes, but nobody is keen to enter the name guessing game.
The electoral college of Maharashtra is the second biggest in the country with 48 Lok Sabha MPs, 19 Rajya Sabha MPs and 288 MLAs who will vote for the Presidential elections.
The BJP currently has 23 Lok Sabha and 8 Rajya Sabha MPs, and on the MVA side Shiv Sena has 18 in LS and 3 in RS, NCP 4 each in LS and RS, Congress has 1 in LS and 3 in RS, besides AIMIM and an Independent 1 each in LS while RPI has 1 in RS.
In the 288-member Assembly, the ruling MVA's strength is: Shiv Sena has 57 MLAs, NCP (53), Congress (44), others and Independents (16); on the Opposition side BJP has 106, plus its allies (7), besides others and Independents (5).
It may be recalled that in the past, the Shiv Sena -- then a part of the NDA -- had strayed and supported Congress' Pratibha Patil who had created history as the first woman and first from Maharashtra to occupy the country's highest office (2007-2012).
Much to the chagrin of the NDA, for the second time, the Sena had backed Congress candidate, the late Pranab Mukherjee, for President, owing to the excellent personal rapport he enjoyed with the Sena founder, the late Balasaheb Thackeray.
MVA leaders though feel such possibilities are remote in 2022 as the BJP's stand on the incumbent President Ram Nath Kovind is not clear and it may seriously consider a tribal or someone from other unrepresented categories for the top post with hopes to make him/her a consensus candidate, given the current scenario.
Moreover, the MVA -- like the other non-BJP ruled states in the country -- is at the receiving end of the stick brutally wielded by various central investigating agencies and is unlikely to fall easily for any political ‘olive twigs' that may be thrown its way.