NDA constituents barring the Shiv Sena today welcomed the nomination of Ram Nath Kovind for the president’s post while Opposition parties seemed not impressed and sought to keep up the suspense on extending their support and may even put up a joint candidate. With both the names suggested by it — RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat and noted agriculturist M S Swaminathan — rejected, Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray said the Dalit candidate was chosen merely for vote-bank politics. The Sena will take a final decision tomorrow regarding its support to 71-year-old Kovind, who is the governor of Bihar. The name of Kovind, who has served two terms as Rajya Sabha MP from BJP and was also the party’s Dalit wing head, was announced by Amit Shah. The BJP chief hoped that there will be a consensus on his name. The Congress, however, spurned the BJP’s appeal for consensus on its choice and said the opposition would take a call on contesting the election after a meeting on June 22.
The BJP had taken a “unilateral decision”, Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad said soon after the announcement. “Congress does not want to comment on this issue as we want to take a unanimous decision with all other opposition parties on the presidential elections. The final call will be taken in a meeting of all opposition parties on June 22,” he said. On the BJP fielding a Dalit candidate, Azad said, “… I don’t want to comment on this… I don’t want to comment on the merits and demerits of the candidate.” Sources in the Left parties said the Opposition may field a joint candidate and the issue will be discussed at the June 22 meeting.
Former Lok Sabha speaker Meira Kumar, ex-Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde; Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh leader and grandson of Dr B R Ambedkar, Prakash Yashwant, and retired diplomat Gopal Krishna Gandhi are some of the names the opposition parties are considering. Union minister M Venkaiah Naidu, who was part of the three-member panel formed to hold discussions and build a consensus on a presidential candidate, said the suggestions of opposition parties played a role in the NDA picking Kovind. “I hope they (opposition) should not have any reason now to oppose the candidature of Ram Nath Kovind because of his background, non-controversial nature, and also sound legal and social background,” he said.
CPI national secretary D Raja, however, said Naidu and Rajnath Singh, who was also part of the panel, had not propose any name. “Now, they have named a person with RSS background. We are against it, but we will have to discuss the issue within the CPI and with other opposition parties. A meeting will be held soon to discuss the same,” he said. Virtually expressing her party’s reservation about the candidature of Kovind, Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee said he was nominated only because he had been a leader of the BJP’s Dalit Morcha in the past.
“There are other big Dalit leaders in the country. Just because he (Kovind) was a leader of the BJP’s Dalit Morcha, they have nominated him,” she said in a statement. “The office of President is a key post. Someone of the stature of Pranab Mukherjee or even Sushma Swaraj or (LK) Advaniji may have been made the candidate.” CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury said the BJP “unilaterally” selected Kovind and the non-NDA parties will take the decision “keeping in mind the country’s history that the ruling and opposition parties contested the polls on all occasion except once”. He said it was the NDA’s proposal that it would get back to the opposition after zeroing on a candidate.
“They did not come back to the opposition and announced the candidate,” he said. The NCP also said the future course of action by the opposition parties will be decided in the June 22 meet. In Lucknow, BSP chief Mayawati said her party is positive about the nomination but wished the NDA had named a non- political Dalit candidate for the top post. “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.
“Had the BJP and NDA brought any non-political Dalit for the post, it would have been better,” she said. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar expressed happiness over the state governor’s candidature for the president’s post, but stopped short of committing support to the NDA nominee. “In my capacity as the Bihar Chief Minister, it is a matter of happiness that our governor has been declared as the candidate for the next president of India,” he told reporters in Patna after paying a courtesy call to Kovind at the Raj Bhawan. CPI general secretary Suravaram Sudhakar Reddy said the Opposition parties must put up their candidate against Kovind as he is from the ranks of 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 of the RSS,” he told PTI in Hyderabad. In Bhubaneswar, Biju Janata Dal (BJD) president and Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik announced his party’s support to Kovind. Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) chief and Union minister Ram Vilas Paswan extended full support to Kovind, saying his choice is a political masterstroke by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The ruling TRS in Telangana and the ruling TDP and opposition YSR Congress party in Andhra Pradesh also backed Kovind’s candidate and pledged their support to him.