Differences in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) over the presidential candidate became apparent Tuesday with the JD-U stating bluntly that it does not stand by its ally BJP, which has announced that it supports neither Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee nor Vice President Hamid Ansari.
The Bharatiya Janata Party denied there was a rift but Janata Dal-United leader and NDA convenor Sharad Yadav minced no words.
The JD-U, he said, did not agree with the BJP's views and there had been no discussion on the presidential candidate in the BJP-led opposition alliance.
“The view that Sushma-ji has expressed is their party's view. There has not been any discussion with us or in the NDA on the presidential candidates,” Sharad Yadav told reporters.
BJP leader Sushma Swaraj Monday said her party would not support Mukherjee or any other Congress candidate. She also said the party would not back Ansari but was open to former president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam.
Attempting to paper over the cracks, BJP spokespersons later said Sharad Yadav was right and the views expressed by Swaraj were not of the NDA.
“Mrs. Sushma Swaraj had said it has not been discussed on NDA forum. The line taken by both leaders are same,” party spokesperson Rajiv Pratap Rudy said.
“There is no rift whatsoever between BJP and JD-U on this issue. It's mere speculation or an interpretation, which was uncalled,” he said.
“Sushma-ji had said we will not have any deal with the Congress... there has been no discussion in NDA yet. We will first discuss it in BJP, then NDA, and then with larger opposition,” added his colleague Shahnawaz Hussain.
The Samajwadi Party (SP), which is extending outside support to the Congress-led government, agreed with the BJP that Kalam was a good choice and pitched for a Muslim candidate.
SP leader Kamal Farooqui also suggested the names of Chief Election Commissioner S.Y. Qureshi and former deputy chairman of Rajya Sabha K. Rahman Khan.
“My party is discussing name. We will come out with a name very soon... the non-NDA parties are in support of a Muslim candidate, and as BJP is for A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, they may also support if a good Muslim candidate is pitched,” Farooqui told TV news channel Times Now.
“Kalam saab is a good candidate... but we have not agreed on any name so far, we are discussing it,” he said.
While the question of who would be India's next president is wide open, Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief Lalu Prasad has reiterated that it would back Vice President Ansari.
"Ansari is a capable and competent man for the top post. He should be supported by all," Lalu Prasad said.
President Pratibha Patil's term ends in the third week of July.
The UPA has over 40 percent of the total votes in the electoral college while the NDA has less than 30 percent. Neither grouping can elect a presidential candidate on its own electoral strength.