NEW DELHI: The opposition has been taken aback by the BJP’s announcement of Ram Nath Kovind as its candidate for president. They have decided to meet on June 22 to take a call on fielding a candidate against the ruling’s party’s nominee.
Congress general secretary Ghulam Nabi Azad described the BJP’s choice as “unilateral” but added, "We are not going to comment on the merits and demerits of the BJP’s candidate. The Congress wants to take a unanimous decision along with the other opposition parties in the meeting on June 22."
There were indications of multiple thoughts within the opposition. Samajwadi Party leader Naresh Agarwal said the parties will meet and decide whether or not to field a consensus opposition candidate. But only a day earlier on Sunday, Samajwadi Party patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav had assured NDA leaders of his party's support -- with the rider that the candidate not be a strong saffron votary.
Furthermore, Mayawati of the BSP extended support to Ram Nath Kovind, saying her party cannot in principle oppose a candidate who hails from a Dalit community. “As he is a Dalit we are positive about his name, but only if the opposition does not announce a popular Dalit name,” she added.
Azad was critical that the BJP's consultations with the opposition had only been a "formality and a PR exercise". He said no names were discussed when senior BJP leaders Venkaiah Naidu and Rajnath Singh met Congress president Sonia Gandhi last week.
"They informed us of their choice only after announcing their decision. So there is no scope for consensus now. We were not expecting this from the ruling party. But it is their will, they are free to take a one-sided unilateral decision," Azad added.
The left parties also joined chorus with the Congress about not being consulted before announcing the candidature of Ram Nath Kovind. The CPI’s national secretary D Raja said Rajnath Singh and Venkaiah Naidu had not proposed any name in their consultations.
Raja said, "Now they have named a person with an RSS background. We are against it, but we will have to discuss the issue within the CPI and with other opposition parties.”
The Opposition is said to be considering the names of former speaker Meira Kumar and B R Ambedkar’s grandson Prakash Ambedkar to field as the Opposition candidate against Ram Nath Kovind.
However, Meira Kumar’s candidature may be opposed by the Left parties, BJD and Aam Aadmi Party, for they are against supporting a member of the Congress.
A source in the opposition said, “Ambedkar’s grandson is an ideal candidate and will get the support of the BSP. It could also make it tough for the Shiv Sena to support Ram Nath Kovind as Prakash Ambedkar is a Maharashtrian.”
The thinking in the Janata Dal (U) is that there is no problem with supporting Ram Nath Kovind as he is a Maha Dalit but the party might not like to break ranks with the Opposition at this moment.
The SP is likely to support the Congress candidate while RJD leader Lalu Yadav, who is likely to miss the June 22 meeting as he has to appear in court in Ranchi, has made it clear he would like the Opposition to field a candidate.