Whether an enlightened public figure or an active politician, the next President should be one who enjoys the widest possible acceptability. For this to happen, there should be meaningful discussions towards building a consensus among the major political parties ahead of the presidential election. The BJP’s overtures to key leaders in the opposition appear to be merely exploratory. Approaching opposition parties for their cooperation without putting forward a name will be unfruitful. It appears that the Union Ministers who met key opposition leaders requested that the latter should not field a candidate merely for the sake of a contest. Such an approach is more likely to succeed if the Centre draws up a list of possible names and seeks the cooperation of opposition parties in getting one of them elected. It would also help the opposition parties arrive at an agreement among themselves on whether to field a candidate or back the ruling party’s choice. The BJP may want to elect a President who will share its political outlook and philosophy. After all, in the last two elections the Congress succeeded in getting its party leaders elected President. But it is worth recalling that the main opposition of the day did not oppose K.R. Narayanan and A.P.J. Abdul Kalam in 1997 and 2002, respectively. A consensus is still possible if the candidate chosen meets one of the most important qualifications for the presidency — a general acceptability.
Too often, contestations in the political realm make it imperative for the opposition to field a candidate in the interest of demonstrating its unity in the hope that its combined strength will pose some sort of a threat to the ruling dispensation. There is little doubt that the current political mood in the country is not entirely conducive to successful cooperation among diverse political forces to get an eminent citizen elected without a contest to head the republic. There is widespread unrest among farmers and there are credible fears among several sections that there may be an attempt at homogenising the country’s cultural diversity. There will be little surprise if parties opposing the policies of the National Democratic Alliance regime would want to make use of this opportunity to join hands and make a determined attempt to challenge the electoral supremacy enjoyed by the BJP in the recent elections. On the other side, the BJP may believe it has an edge in the electoral college consisting of all members of Parliament and the State Assemblies, as it can count on the backing of some regional parties. In such circumstances, a contest is likely. However, it would be best if someone who inspires confidence that he or she would act in a non-partisan manner is elected with the support of both the ruling party and the major parties in the opposition. It would enable the next incumbent to be the honest broker and wise counsel the Constitution envisions him or her to be.