After the BJP on Monday named Bihar Governor Ram Nath Kovind as the NDA’s presidential candidate, the opposition — taken by surprise — hesitated to question his credentials but said it will hold a meeting on June 22 to chalk out its strategy. Opposition leaders have agreed to attend the June 22 meeting, to be chaired by Congress President Sonia Gandhi to take a final decision on the July 17 presidential election, senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad said here. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee expressed surprise over the name and said that “in order to support someone, we must know the person”.
“Candidate should be someone who will be beneficial for the country. The opposition will meet on June 22 — only then we can announce our decision,” she said. Sulking BJP ally Shiv Sena too indicated its unhappiness, saying it was not consulted on the candidate. The nomination of Kovind, a Dalit leader, by the Bharatiya Janata Party appeared to have put the opposition in a quandary as the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) said it cannot oppose the NDA candidate unless the opposition puts up a popular Dalit candidate.
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar hailed Kovind’s role as state Governor but remained non-committal on supporting him. Communist Party of India-Marxist leader Sitaram Yechury said Kovind “was chief of the RSS’s Dalit branch” and “somewhere it was a political fight or contest”. Azad also accused the BJP of “unilateralism” but did not say whether or not the opposition will field a candidate for the July 17 contest.
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“So far as the National Democratic Alliance nominee is concerned, the Congress has nothing to say on the merits or demerits. All the opposition parties had collectively decided on evolving a consensus on the Presidential candidate when leaders of 18 parties met,” Azad said. “We had full hope that before announcing they will discuss some names. They did inform us but only after they had decided on the name,” he said and termed the outreach by the BJP as a “formality”.
Mayawati, in her remarks to the media, said: “We are not against Kovind’s nomination… As he is a Dalit, we can’t oppose his name, but only if the united opposition doesn’t announce a popular Dalit name.” Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut told media persons in Mumbai that BJP President Amit Shah called up Sena President Uddhav Thackeray after announcing Kovind’s name and sought his support.
Thackeray said he will call a Sena meeting before taking a final call. Thackeray told Shah on Sunday that the Sena will take a decision after the BJP announces the candidate. Banerjee said senior BJP leaders L.K. Advani or Sushma Swaraj could have been made candidates. “The President’s is a key post. Someone of the stature of Pranab Mukherjee, or even Sushma Swaraj or Advani-ji, may have been made the candidate,” she said.
Nitish Kumar called on Kovind in Patna and said he is “personally glad” over his candidature, but was non-commital on Janata Dal-United’s support to his candidature. “Kovind has discharged his duties as Bihar Governor in an unbiased manner. He has worked as per the Constitution and upheld the dignity of the Governor’s post. His was an ideal relationship with the state government,” Nitish Kumar said.
As to whether the JD-U will support his candidature, Nitish Kumar said they will discuss the issue later and decide. Sonia Gandhi had taken the initiative to forge a consensus on the opposition’s candidate for the presidential poll. The opposition parties had formed a sub-committee to select a candidate but decided not to come up with a name till there was clarity about the choice of the ruling alliance.