NEW DELHI: Elections for the President and the Uttar Pradesh polls will together constitute the next challenge for the BJP and the Opposition parties, with the face-off set to sharpen as soon as the current spate of Assembly elections draw to a close.

It is almost certain that President Pranab Mukherjee will not get a second term in office, sources said. The elections for the next President are due in July 2017.

UP remains crucial not just for the Lok Sabha polls in 2019, but also for determining the next President of India, with the preparations already in full swing. Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be visiting Ballia to distribute cycles to distribute free gas connections to BPL families. BJP president Amit Shah has directed the party state unit to expand its reach over the social media for the crucial polls. The BJP has appointed a new President of the state party Keshav Maurya who has come under the Opposition scanner on an alleged murder case.

The Congress is slower with Rahul Gandhi having discussions with local leaders about the strategy. He did organise a Dalit conclave. The Samajwadi party has done the predictable by bringing in Mulayam Singh Yadav’s younger brother Shivpal Yadav as the party in charge in UP with Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav remaining ‘cut to size’ as it were by his father. Ajit Singh has merged with his party, the Rashtriya Lok Dal into the Janata Dal(U) with Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar now the president of the party.

The only one remaining out of the public view, is Bahujan Samaj party’s Mayawati who has stayed out of the media glare. Except for a couple of statements in Parliament on the Rohit Vemula issue, Mayawati has kept a very low profile over the past couple of years. Even in Parliament she refused floor coordination with the Opposition parties, maintaining an independent line through the session. At the same time she is widely perceived to be the one in position to give a sharp fight to the BJP in the forthcoming elections.

In the electoral college of MLAs and MPs to elect the President of India, the legislator from UP has the highest ‘value’ of 403 as per the population of the state. This makes it crucial for the ruling party at the centre, so that it can make its own candidate the President. By the time the Presidential polls are due, at least 10 states would have elected new Assemblies. The list includes Assam, Manipur, Kerala, West Bengal,Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Goa and Uttarakhand. Of these the BJP is a player for government in Assam that has just completed the polling, Uttarakhand where it managed to overturn the Congress government, Manipur that has a electoral value of just 8 per legislator, Goa and Uttar Pradesh. The regional parties remain in play in Tamil Nadu, and the Opposition parties in West Bengal, and Kerala with the BJP presence negligible in these states. The Aam Aadmi party is working to give tough fight to the BJP_Akali Dal in Punjab with sources maintaining that it is getting good traction in the state.

For the BJP to field a RSS member for the post of President of India, UP becomes crucial. Otherwise its dependency on the regional parties such as the AIADMK in Tamil Nadu, and Trinamool Congress in West Bengal increases to a point where these parties will then dictate the choice of President. It is unlikely that Mamata Banerjee, or Jayalalithaa will support a RSS candidate for the head of state position. A third regional party that the BJP can count on is the Biju Janata Dal in Orissa.It might be recalled that Jayalalithaa, Navin Patnaik and the BJP had supported Purno A. Sangma against the Congress led UPA candidate Pranab Mukherjee in 2012 and there is little to suggest that this alliance is a thing of the past.

The Left, Congress, Janata Dal(U), Rashtriya Janata Dal, Nationalist Congress party and perhaps the DMK will in all probability support a common candidate for the post of President. No names are in circulation from either side, with all political parties looking now at the big elections coming up through this year into 2017 before making any announcements.

Bihar was a major setback for the BJP, as was Delhi. Sources said that a UP win would bolster the BJP’s effort to bring in its candidate for President with then minimal help from other political parties or individual legislators. As it would its chances in the Lok Sabha 2019 elections.