Wednesday, Feb 21, 2024 | Last Update : 08:17 AM IST

  India   Politics  20 Jun 2017  Opposition forced to rethink strategy, to meet June 22

Opposition forced to rethink strategy, to meet June 22

Published : Jun 20, 2017, 1:13 am IST
Updated : Jun 20, 2017, 1:13 am IST

The Opposition camp had earlier planned to field former West Bengal Governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi, who is Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee (Photo: PTI)
 West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee (Photo: PTI)

New Delhi: The NDA’s presidential candidate, Ram Nath Kovind, has created an “uncomfortable” situation for the 17-party Opposition conglomerate and forced it to rethink its strategy. The Opposition was in a tizzy on Monday, trying to find and field a dalit candidate to counter the ruling party’s nominee. The names doing the rounds are of former Speaker Meira Kumar and B.R. Ambedkar’s grandson Prakash Ambedkar. Sources said that a tribal candidate was also being mulled.

The Opposition camp had earlier planned to field former West Bengal Governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi, who is Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson.

The rethink is necessary as at least two parties — the Janata Dal (United) and BSP chief Mayawati — have indicated that they would find it difficult to oppose a dalit candidate.

Ms Mayawati said that her party could not be “negative” to a dalit candidate, but she stopped short of expressing support for Mr Kovind, saying her party would be “positive” only if the Opposition did not field a dalit candidate.

Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar rushed to meet Mr Kovind, who is the Governor of his state, and maintained that he was suitable candidate for the post.

As soon as Mr Kovind’s candidature was announced by the BJP, the Congress was the first to react, saying that the decision had been taken by the BJP “unilaterally” and that they had not been consulted.

Though information and broadcasting minister M. Venkaiah Naidu and home minister Rajnath Singh had met Congress president Sonia Gandhi last week, they had not discussed any names. They had merely asked Mrs Gandhi for her party’s support for the presidential elections.

“We had expected that before taking a final decision, they would have spoken with us,” senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad said, and added that a decision on the matter would be taken by all the Opposition parties together in the next meeting on June 22. The meeting will be chaired by Mrs Gandhi and attended by all the top Opposition leaders. Mr Azad had termed the BJP’s attempt at outreach as a “formality and a PR exercise”.

Though the Congress is keen to field Ms Kumar, there were differences among Opposition parties on her candidature as many parties, like the CPI(M), Trinamool Congress and AAP, do not want to back a hardcore Congress candidate due to their regional compulsions.

Apart from being a dalit and a woman, Ms Kumar is also the daughter of late dalit icon, Babu Jagjivan Ram. A Congress leader for 40 years, he later joined the Janata Party and served as the deputy Prime Minister from 1977-1979.

Though AAP is not part of 17-party Opposition conglomerate, it has pledged its support for the Opposition’s candidate.

Mr Kovind is a dalit from Uttar Pradesh and his nomination is being seen as a message from the BJP to the dalit community in the Hindi heartland, specifically UP, which is crucial for a poll victory in the 2019 general elections. Thus, it is with on her mind that Ms Mayawati will take a decision on her support for Mr Kovind.

In Delhi, JD(U) national spokesperson K.C. Tyagi said that the NDA’s choice had put his party in an “uncomfortable” position. However, he reiterated that his party was all for Opposition unity.

Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee was more specific, saying that though she did not have anything against Mr Kovind, she had expected a person of the stature of Sushma Swaraj or L.K. Advani.  

“I am not for a moment saying that the Bihar Governor Ram Nath Kovind is unfit to be the President. I have spoken to two or three other Opposition leaders, they are also surprised. There are other big dalit leaders in the country. Just because he was the leader of malit Morcha of the BJP they have made him the candidate. The office of President is a key post. Someone of the stature of Pranab Mukherjee, or even Sushma Swaraj or Advaniji may have been made the candidate,” Ms Banerjee said in a statement.

As far as the Samajwadi Party is concerned, differences persist. SP patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav has expressed support for the NDA and son Akhilesh Yadav is determined to side with the Congress-led Opposition.

Among the fence-sitters, while the Biju Janata Dal has supported Mr Kovind’s candidature, NDA’s miffed ally Shiv Sena is playing hardball, saying it does not want to get dragged into playing dalit politics.

Sources told this newspaper that it was with an effort to exploit this sentiment that Prakash Ambedkar’s name was being considered. Besides being B.R. Ambedkar’s grandson, he is also a Maharashtrian.

Mr Ambedkar is the national leader of a local political party called Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh. He has been a member of the Lok Sabha twice from Akola, Maharashtra.

Tags: ram nath kovind, opposition, prakash ambedkar, mayawati, mamata banerjee