Stumped by the “Dalit face” of the NDA’s presidential candidate, the opposition went into a huddle today, while Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad rushed to Patna for talks with Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad on the issue. Sources said senior Congress leaders talked to their counterparts in other opposition parties to ensure their presence at a crucial meeting on June 22 of all non-NDA parties in Parliament. The opposition leaders also put up a brave face, claiming their unity was intact after some among the non-NDA parties welcomed Kovind’s nomination. Sources said Azad, who is the Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha, was to attend an Iftar dinner hosted by the Bihar PCC in Patna tonight, but speculation was rife that he would meet state chief minister Nitish Kumar in a bid to firm up the opposition’s strategy on a presidential candidate to counter the NDA’s nominee, Ram Nath Kovind.
The JD-U is also slated to meet in Patna tomorrow to decide on the party’s stand on the presidential poll, slated to be held on July 17. Azad’s visit to Patna assumes significance after Nitish Kumar yesterday welcomed Kovind’s candidature, just falling short of extending support to him. Mayawati’s BSP also said the party could not be “negative” about a Dalit candidate. While the Left is keen to put up a symbolic fight for the poll on ideological differences with the BJP, the fact that the NDA candidate is a Dalit has put the Congress in a fix. Sources said the Congress may now go in for a Dalit candidate, too, to match the NDA on the issue. Some of the names doing the rounds now are those of former Speaker Meira Kumar, B R Ambedkar’s grandson Prakash Ambedkar and former Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde.
If there is an election, Kovind is likely to win it, with the Shiv Sena and some other regional parties also announcing their support to the NDA. The opposition is keen to put up a united face on the matter and ensure that all top leaders attend the June 22 meet to be attended by Congress chief Sonia Gandhi.