Opposition parties will meet to take a final decision on their strategy on June 22.
New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi may have surprised many by fielding BJP Dalit leader and Bihar governor Ram Nath Kovind as the party’s presidential candidate, but the manner in which the saffron party chose to suddenly abort its advertised quest for ‘consensus’ on the issue with the opposition has now made it almost certain that there will be a contest for the post of the next president of India.
There will be a contest: CPI(M)
Though the opposition parties are expected to announce their decision on the matter on June 22 when the committee of opposition parties constituted to take the final call is scheduled to meet, going by the sense of outrage being felt by many parties, a contest looks most likely. While in order to present a collective and united face on the issue, the Congress today declined to comment on BJP’s choice of Kovind as its candidate, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Sitaram Yechury declared in Agartala that “there will be a contest“. Yechury noted that the only once in India’s history has a president come to office unopposed – when Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy was elected in 1977.
Contest necessary to oppose RSS candidate: CPI
Another Left party, the CPI, is also in favour of a contest. Its general secretary, Suravaram Sudhakar Reddy, told the media in Hyderabad that Kovind should be opposed as he is from the RSS. “Anybody from RSS rank will further divide the country. The three-year rule of the BJP government has divided the country. We feel that definitely there is a need for a democratic candidate, not from hardcore RSS,” he said.
Congress to wait for decision of opposition meet on June 22
Senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad, who along with leader of Congress in Lok Sabha, Mallikarjun Kharge, is part of the committee of opposition leaders, said the party would abide by the decision of the committee of opposition leaders. The meeting is expected to be chaired by Congress president Sonia Gandhi.
“The Congress had decided in the beginning that all the non-NDA parties would take a collective decision in the matter,” he said today, when asked to comment on whether Kovind would be acceptable as a consensus candidate.
Azad further said that it was Congress president Sonia Gandhi who had some time ago decided to bring 18 opposition parties together through her ‘luncheon diplomacy’. “That meeting had authorised Ms. Gandhi to constitute a group of opposition parties to discuss the various names and moves and this group had met last Wednesday,” he said.
In the meantime, he said, the BJP constituted a three-member committee comprising senior leaders and union minister Rajnath Singh, Venkaiah Naidu and Arun Jaitley to reach out to the opposition and they had established contact with various parties. On June 16, Naidu and Singh met several opposition leaders. They had called on Gandhi, Communist Party of India leader D. Raja, CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury and Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav, separately in Delhi but had not proposed any names. Naidu had also met Bahujan Samaj Party leader Satish Chandra Mishra to discuss the issue.
Azad said that while the BJP leaders had not proposed any names on June 16, they had promised that as and when a decision would be taken, they would resume efforts to seek consensus on it before announcing it.
Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh were only informed of the decision
Azad said while it is correct that the BJP leaders did inform Ms. Gandhi and former prime minister Manmohan Singh over the phone about the decision on Kovind, this was only after a decision had been taken. “So that did not leave any scope for creating a consensus on his name,” he said, adding that this is not what was expected from the government.
The Congress leader said that while the announcement of Kovind’s name was a one-sided decision, it also showed that the exercise undertaken by the BJP to develop a consensus was one that lacked serious intent since without a name or names, the other parties could not have reached a consensus with the ruling alliance.
“The only thing I would like to say is that we expected that before they would take the final decision on the candidate, they will reach out to us and to the other political parties as each one of us was given to understand that before the final decision would be taken, we would be taken into confidence and the names will be discussed. But that has not happened. That is the sweet will of the NDA government,” said Azad.
On its part, of course, the Congress, acting through the UPA, did not go down the ‘consensus’ route for either the 2007 or 2012 presidential elections. In 2007, the UPA was consulted on the choice of Pratibha Patil but the BJP was not. In 2012, again, the BJP was presented with a fait accompli when the Congress nominated Pranab Mukherjee,
Kovind finds support from BJD, LJP, TRS, TDP and YSR
Meanwhile, Kovind’s candidature has found support from some non-NDA political parties. While Biju Janata Dal (BJD) president and Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik declared his party’s support for Kovind, the Dalit leader also won the backing of NDA ally Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), with its chief and union minister Ram Vilas Paswan, all praise for his candidature.
Similarly, the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samiti in Telangana and the ruling Telugu Desam Party and and opposition YSR Congress party in Andhra Pradesh also backed Kovind’s candidature.
JD(U), BSP, TMC, Shiv Sena appear to be in two minds
In Bihar, chief minister and Janata Dal (United) leader Nitish Kumar, who is said to have developed a good rapport with Kovind, expressed happiness at the state’s governor being chosen as the presidential candidate but did not commit his party’s support to the move.
Similarly, BSP supremo Mayawati was reserved in her appreciation of BJP picking a Dalit leader as presidential candidate.
“Although Kovind has been associated with the RSS and the BJP from the beginning but since he is a Dalit, our party’s stand towards him cannot be negative. It will be positive, provided opposition parties do not field any Dalit for the post who is more capable and popular than him,” she said.
Trinamool Congress leader and West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee was even more non-committal in her support, and said there were “other big Dalit leaders in the country” and someone of the stature of one of the prominent leaders of the day, like Pranab Mukherjee, Sushma Swaraj or L.K. Advani should have been chosen instead.
Even BJP ally Shiv Sena did not appear too pleased with the decision, with its leaders Uddhav Thackeray and Sanjay Raut saying the party had suggested the names of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat and the father of the green revolution, renowned agricultural scientist M.S. Swaminathan, for the post. However, now that BJP has taken a decision, they said the Shiv Sena would announce its decision on supporting Kovind’s candidature in a couple of days.
(With inputs from agencies)