LUCKNOW: The who’s who of Uttar Pradesh politics, including Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav, his father Mulayam Singh Yadav and Bahujan Samaj Party supremo Mayawati, were invited to 5 Kalidas Marg to dine with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday evening. So the inevitable buzz was that it was an exercise in dinner diplomacy to win support for the NDA’s candidate for president, Ram Nath Kovind.
As it turned out, Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati chose to stay away and little was discussed about the presidential election during the dinner hosted by chief minister Yogi Adityanath in honour of the PM.
Having already hinted his intention to side with the NDA in the presidential election, Samajwadi Party patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav was among the first to reach the chief minister’s residence. He was followed by governor Ram Naik and the two deputy chief minister in the Yogi Adityanath cabinet and several senior BJP leaders.
In all over 100 invitees, including prominent Muslim leaders, clerics and intellectuals of Lucknow joined the PM for dinner.
Earlier in the day, Mulayam had given the thumbs-up to Ram Nath Kovind’s candidature. "Ram Nath Kovind is a good candidate. I have a very old relation with him. BJP has selected a strong candidate. The most important thing is that the BJP has a majority. Can't say what the opposition will decide now," he told a TV news channel.
While Mulayam’s presence at the dinner underlined his differences with his son Akhilesh, the younger Yadav conveyed through the media that he would make his stand on Kovind’s candidature clear only after attending a meeting of opposition parties on June 22.
But as news filtered in from other parts of the country, the PM was left free to enjoy his meal without having to perform dinner diplomacy. While Mayawati chose to be absent, she has already indicated that the NDA’s choice of a Dalit candidate was welcome to her.
"Kovind has been associated with the RSS and BJP but since he is a Dalit, our party's stand towards him will be positive unless the opposition does not field a more promising Dalit candidate,” Mayawati had said.
With the Shiv Sena too expressing support to Kovind, the Congress and the left parties have been left to stir up a semblance of a contest.