In a surprise turn of events, the Bharatiya Janata Party proposed the name of Bihar Governor Ram Nath Kovind as the NDA candidate for the upcoming Presidential election. Seventy-one-year-old Kovind is a Dalit leader from Kanpur. He was elected twice to the Rajya Sabha from Uttar Pradesh. Kovind was previously BJP spokesperson. He also practiced as a Supreme Court lawyer.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Kovind will make an “exceptional President” and his legal background will “benefit the nation”. In a series of tweets, PM Modi said: “Shri Ram Nath Kovind, a farmer’s son, comes from a humble background. He devoted his life to public service & worked for poor & marginalised. With his illustrious background in the legal arena, Shri Kovind’s knowledge and understanding of the Constitution will benefit the nation. I am sure Shri Ram Nath Kovind will make an exceptional President & continue to be a strong voice for the poor, downtrodden & marginalised,”
Union Minister Nirmala Sitharaman described Kovind as someone who is “soft-spoken, well-read and articulate”.
Briefing the press after the BJP parliamentary board meeting on Monday, Amit Shah said: “Ram Nath Kovind has always fought for the betterment of the Dalits and other backward castes.”
Saying that PM Modi informed Congress president Sonia Gandhi about the NDA’s choice, Shah added that the Congress will discuss the matter internally before spelling out their stand. “Sonia ji told us that she would discuss this within the party and take a call on their next move,” he said.
Refusing to comment on Kovind’s candidature, Congress accused the BJP of “unilaterally” taking the decision. “Unilaterally they (BJP) took a decision, but it is up to them. One of our colleague said it was a PR exercise… Without revealing the name how will you build a consensus? On the presidential nominee announced by the NDA, we have nothing to say. We don’t want to comment on the merits and demerits of the candidate…The opposition was given to understand that they will be taken into confidence,” Congress spokesperson Ghulam Nabi Azad said.
When asked the Opposition’s future course of action, Azad said: “So far as the future strategy of the Opposition is concerned, we are not going to comment on it until the next of the meeting, which has been fixed on June 22 at 4.30 pm; most probably at the Parliamentary Library. Sonia Gandhi ji will be presiding over the meeting…”
Declining to comment on whether the Opposition would support the NDA move, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, however, praised Kovind’s “exemplary work” as Governor. “Matter of happiness for me personally. As far as support is concerned, can’t say anything right now. it is too early to say. He has done exemplary work (as Governor of Bihar), worked with impartiality, maintained an ideal relationship with the state government,” he said.
Reacting to the development, BJP ally at the Centre, Shiv Sena said the party should have consulted its allies before naming the candidate. Sena MP Sanjay Raut, speaking with news channel NDTV, said: “You made a three-member committee, Amit Shah has met other leaders, then what is the point in all this… They (BJP) have the complete freedom to choose the candidate, it is the biggest party, they lead the NDA, we have trust in the prime minister… BJP should have discussed the name with all the NDA constituents.”
Meanwhile, the Telangana Rashtra Samiti, who is at loggerheads with the BJP in Telangana, declared that they would back the NDA candidate. YSR Congress chief Y S Jaganmohan Reddy had met PM Modi in May and extended his party’s support for the upcoming election.
Earlier today, the BJP parliamentary board met to discuss the names for the upcoming presidential election. Prime Minister Narendra Modi chaired the meeting, and BJP national president Amit Shah and Union Ministers Rajnath Singh, Arun Jaitley, Venkaiah Naidu, Sushma Swaraj Nitin Gadkari were among those in attendance.
The party had constituted a three-member team to pick a candidate for the election. Venkaiah Naidu and Rajnath Singh, who are part of the team, met Opposition leaders to discuss the issue. The BJP has also reached out to their ally at the Centre, Shiv Sena. Opposition parties were, however, noncommittal on the issue as the BJP team did not discuss any names with them. Ruling out support for a candidate with a Hindutva background, the broad consensus among the Opposition is that the candidate must have strong liberal and secular credentials.
Meanwhile, several BJP lawmakers were called to the national capital to act as signatories for the nomination papers. A total of 50 nominators and 50 seconders are required to back a candidate eligible to stand in the election. The election hinges on the Opposition’s decision to field their own candidate, if they fail to arrive at a consensus with the ruling BJP. However, the BJP has the numbers to see its candidate through the election.