NEW DELHI: Meira Kumar, former Lok Sabha Speaker, will be the opposition’s candidate for President against the BJP’s nominee, Ram Nath Kovind, it was decided at a meeting of 17 parties chaired by Congress president Sonia Gandhi in Delhi on Thursday evening. As expected, the opposition has turned the presidential election into a Dalit vs Dalit contest and Lalu Yadav has appealed to his partner and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar to change his mind on supporting the BJP’s nominee.
- The decision to field Meira Kumar, 72, was “unanimous” said the Left’s Sitaram Yechury. Among those who attended the meeting was Mayawati of the Bahujan Samaj Party and her support is key.
- Mayawati, herself a Dalit icon, had indicated that she did not want to be seen as blocking a Dalit candidate’s rise to the top office in the country.
- The BJP and allies now have well over 60 per cent of the vote with the support of several regional parties including both factions of the AIADMK, but the opposition parties say a contest will symbolise “a battle of ideologies”.
- The anti-BJP front was left considerably diminished by Nitish Kumar, the Chief Minister of Bihar, exiting the bloc to support the BJP’s candidate.
- Lalu Yadav said after the meeting, “I appeal to Nitish Kumar to support the daughter of Bihar.” Congress leader in Bihar Ashok Choudhary too has appealed to Nitish Kumar to change his mind now that the opposition has picked a Dalit candidate from Bihar in Ms Kumar.
- But Pawan Varma of Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal United said there was no question of the party changing its mind. “We have applied our mind and will stick to Kovind… The opposition is now just offering a token fight.”
- Ram Nath Kovind, 71, was, till his nomination, the Governor of Bihar. Nitish Kumar has said he makes an ideal candidate for Rashtrapati Bhavan. The Chief Minister relies heavily on the support of Dalits in Bihar.
- Nitish Kumar’s decision to vote with the BJP has put new pressure on his already fragile alliance in Bihar with both the Congress and Lalu Yadav.
- Lalu Yadav said he does not want the Bihar government to be threatened. He said he had “advised” Nitish Kumar not to break ranks with his allies.
- Meira Kumar, 72, had met Sonia Gandhi last evening. Announcing the decision to nominate her, the Congress’ Ghulam Nabi Azad read out her achievements and said, “there could not be a better candidate for President.”