Seemingly moving past the unpleasantness after backing NDA presidential candidate Ram Nath Kovind, the JD(U) attended today’s meeting of the non-NDA parties to pick a vice president contender.
New Delhi: Gopalkrishna Gandhi, former West Bengal governor and the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, was today unanimously chosen by all 18 non-NDA parties as their candidate for vice president. The parties, which had in early June come together to discuss fielding of a joint presidential candidate, met today at Parliament House Library to field a common vice presidential candidate.
As was the case with their presidential candidate Meira Kumar, Gandhi’s name was the only one up for discussion at today’s meeting. The only difference this time was that the 18 parties were eager not to repeat the mistake of waiting for the NDA to announce its candidate first, as had happened in the case of presidential nominee Ram Nath Kovind, which led to the JD(U) moving away and joining hands with ruling dispensation.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi led today’s meeting. Several other party leaders were also present at the meeting, including former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, party vice president Rahul Gandhi, Mallikarjun Kharge, Ghulam Nabi Azad and Ahmad Patel.
The announcement was made to the media during the course of the meeting by Sonia. She also said the opposition had spoken to Gopalkrishna Gandhi and he had agreed to be their candidate. It was during the meeting that CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury, the TMC’s Derek O’Brien and Ghulam Nabi Azad spoke to Gopalkrishna for his consent.
Congress resorts to damage control
After the fiasco last month where Azad attacked JD(U) leader Nitish Kumar for supporting Kovind’s candidature, the Congress had gone into a damage control mode to pacify Nitish. At that time, Azad had said: “People who have one principle make one decision, but those who believe in many principles make different decisions”.
While the JD(U) had termed Azad’s comments “unfriendly and unwarranted,” Kumar had made it clear that the fault lay with the Congress as even after his meeting with Sonia, the party had not acted on all the names for president that were discussed. He also insisted that “keeping someone in good humour is not in my nature”.
Though Kumar did not attend today’s meeting, he did let senior JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav attend the meeting. This was a notable departure from the meeting on June 22 in which Meira was announced as the opposition’s presidential candidate, which the JD(U) had skipped.
Rahul intervenes, Patel plays peacemaker
It is learnt that Rahul, who had taken the lead in the formation of the mahagathbandhan in Bihar to defeat the BJP during the last assembly polls, had taken the lead to placate Nitish. He is also learnt to have directed Bihar Congress chief Ashok Choudhary to ensure that the unit leaders did not publicly criticise Nitish. Also, Patel, Sonia’s trusted lieutenant, was given a larger role in keeping all the opposition allies together.
The result was for all to see, with the opposition appearing very united. All parties that were present on June 22 sent their representatives to this meeting. The Janata Dal (Secular) was represented by former prime minister H.D. Deve Gowda, the Samajwadi Party by Naresh Agrawal, the BSP by Satish Mishra, the RJD by JP Yadav, National Conference by Omar Abdullah, Nationalist Congress Party by Tariq Anwar and Praful Patel, the Rashtriya Lok Dal by Ajit Singh, the DMK by T.K. Elangovan, the Kerala Congress by Jose Mani, the All India United Democratic Front by Badrudin Ajmal, the CPI by D. Raja and the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha by Hemant Soren.
Issue of ideology, not numbers
While there was some talk of Gopalkrishna and Prakash Ambedkar being considered privately ahead of today’s meeting, some senior Left leaders had stated that there were no initial consultations on any names. “The parties are just keen to put up a united front against the BJP in their fight against its ideology,” said a senior leader, adding that they had just given their suggestions as asked.
The numbers are stacked in favour of the NDA in this election, since the vice president is elected by an electoral college comprising members of parliament – 543 elected and two nominated members of the Lok Sabha and 233 elected and 12 nominated members of Rajya Sabha. The NDA has a strength of 550 out of 790 in both Houses. But the opposition has shown that it wants to be seen as united at this crucial moment. The last date for filing of nominations for the vice presidential poll is July 18 and elections, if necessary, will be held on August 5. Counting will take place on the same day.
The BJP is expected to finalise its candidate for vice president by July 13. The party is once again holding its cards close to its chest and the final decision is expected to be taken by party president Amit Shah and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.