Apart from Droupadi Murmu, Who Were the BJP’s Other Top Contenders for the Post of President?

New Delhi: Shortly after the opposition parties declared Yashwant Sinha as their joint presidential candidate, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) decided to pit former Jharkhand governor Droupadi Murmu against Sinha for the position.

Within a night, Droupadi Murmu has become famous for being the first Schedule Tribe (SC) woman to be nominated for the position of the President of India. Sinha, meanwhile, is a relatively known name in political circles since he served as the finance minister during Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s tenure, and is now an avid critic of the ruling BJP.

On Tuesday (June 21) night, BJP president J.P. Nadda announced Murmu’s candidature, stating that she was chosen out of a total 20 names after much deliberation amongst the party’s Parliamentary Committee. But the question arises: who were the other 19 contenders and why did Murmu emerge as the most the popular choice amongst those considered?

According to sources, other than Murmu, the party had considered senior leaders such as current Vice-President Venkaiah Naidu; governor of Chhattisgarh, Anusuiya Uikey; governor of Haryana, Bandaru Dattatreya; and governor of Telangana and lieutenant governor of Puducherry, Tamilisai Soundararajan as its presidential candidate.

The party source stated that since India has had a Tamil Muslim President in A.P.J. Abdul Kalam; a woman President in Pratibha Patil; and current president Ram Nath Kovind belongs to the Schedule Caste (SC) category, electing a female ST candidate would be the ideal move for the BJP.

“When India can have a scientist, a woman, and a member of the SC community as the President, then an ST  candidate would be the next best choice,” the source said.

“We lost the Jharkhand elections in 2019. Electing a face that represents both Jharkhand and Orissa (from where Murmu hails) will once again popularise the BJP’s name amongst tribal population,” the source added. “This is why Murmu was the ideal choice. Her ST status will also appeal to the tribal regions of Telangana.”

As such, move can be seen as a strategy employed by the party to establish its popularity in the tribal regions of the three states. While Vice-President Naidu’s name was at the forefront for the post, the decision to go with Murmu was taken at the very last minute.

“Till 9:00 pm on Tuesday, Naidu’s name was leading for the candidature. There were only a handful of names in the final list. I guess 20 names were considered in the initial discussions, but in the final list, only five people were there,” the source said. “The discussion over BJP’s presidential candidate was deliberated upon for quite some time but the urgency picked-up once the opposition declared its nominee.”

Since Chhattisgarh governor Uikey is a lesser popular name, it is not clear how her name made it to the final list.

Murmu once served as an assistant researcher and an assistant professor and joined the BJP in 1997. That she superseded Naidu for the post of President took many by surprise.

“I think all candidates were eagerly waiting to hear their name as the party’s official nominee. Even Murmu was surprised and happy when she came to know that the party had chosen her. None of us had anticipated it. But I think the decision has a lot to do with BJP’s intention of appointing India’s first woman ST President,” the party source said.

According to party sources, the BJP is aiming to reduce its dependency on the popularity of Naidu and decided to go with the former Jharkhand governor, a relatively lesser popular name, hoping she would gain the same popularity and traction as current Indian President, Ram Nath Kovind.

Kovind is the second Dalit President of the country, after K.R. Narayanan, who served as the 10th President of India from 1997-2002.

“I’m unsure of it, but at one point, maybe in the preliminary round of discussions, I heard that (National Security Advisor) Ajit Doval’s name was also being considered for the post. But I guess his name did not make it to the list,” the source has said.

As stated by the party source, the five names for Presidential candidature were chosen based upon their popularity and seniority and it wasn’t possible to consider anyone else within the BJP.

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