Presidential Election 2017: On June 25, Opposition Presidential candidate Meira Kumar made an emotional appeal to MPs and MLAs of the country, urging them to cast votes with their “inner conscience” in the July 17 poll. “This is that moment when one should heed the inner voice of conscience and set the course of the nation,” Kumar had said. Her appeal echoed former India Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. The late PM had made a similar appeal during the 1969 Presidential election. Kumar’s appeal, however, may not yield the desired result for the Opposition, which wants to beat NDA candidate Ram Nath Kovind. There are many reasons for this.
Gandhi’s appeal had come in different circumstances. At that time, the Congress was the biggest political party of the country but suffering from an infighting. Gandhi was pitched against her own senior party leaders, or what is also referred to as the Syndicate — with Kamaraj, Nijalingappa, SK Patil, Atulya Ghosh and Neelam Sanjiva Reddy as members.
The Syndicate had fielded Reddy as the Congress Presidential candidate. However, Gandhi was opposed to this and at a meeting of the party leaders, she had proposed the name of Dalit leader and Meira Kumar’s father late Jagjivan Ram. But the Syndicate shot it down, forcing Gandhi to reluctantly file Reddy’ nomination. However, an opportunity presented itself in the form of then Vice-President V V Giri, who announced to contest the election as an independent.
The Syndicate apprehended that Gandhi would support Giri. But she didn’t reveal her choice until the eve of the election when she called on her party members to “vote according to conscience”. Gandhi’s appeal became fruitful as Giri won by a narrow margin.
Gandhi was pitted against an aging Syndicate. Most of the Congress leaders across the country had then realised that their future was to be guided by Gandhi, not the Syndicate. In the latter part of that year, the Congress headed for a formal split.
The circumstances now are completely different. Meira Kumar is pitted against NDAs astronomical numbers that would easily place Kovind in the Rashtrapati Bhavan. At the time of Kovind’s nomination, the NDA had over 60% valid votes in its kitty. With support coming from Nitish Kumar-led JD(U) and other parties like BJD and AIADMK (O Panneerselvam faction), Kovind’s path is clear.
Secondly, the Congress is not being seen as a party of the future at present. It lacks direction and a mercurial leader like Indira Gandhi.