On the eve of its meeting to take a call on fielding a candidate for the presidential elections, the Opposition was a divided house Wednesday. There were visible ruptures in the socialist block within over naming a candidate against NDA presidential nominee Ram Nath Kovind and the Congress, Left and Trinamool Congress, keen on a contest, had very few backers.
Nitish Kumar’s JD(U), Naveen Patnaik’s BJD have decided to back Kovind’s candidature and there are similar indications from the Janata Dal (S) and INLD. The SP and RJD, however, appear inclined for a contest.
Sources said Ahmed Patel, political secretary to Congress president Sonia Gandhi, spoke to former Prime Minister H D Deve Gowda on Tuesday and Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad made a similar phone call Wednesday. Both urged Deve Gowda to attend the Opposition meeting on June 22 but the former Prime Minister excused himself, saying he would be at a function organised by the Congress in Karnataka where he would share the dias with Congress leaders M Veerappa Moily and Oscar Fernandes.
Deve Gowda asked his party national spokesperson Danish Ali to attend the meeting. Asked about the JD(S) stand, Ali told The Indian Express: “We have not yet decided anything. We will make our stand clear tomorrow at the Opposition meeting. If we have to fight (the NDA candidate), there should be someone of stature, reliability and integrity.”
A source in the JD(S), however, conceded it has become “difficult” for the party to oppose Kovind’s candidature because he is a Dalit nominee. The Congress, the JD (S) source said, had not backed the idea of fielding an Opposition candidate in 2002 against NDA presidential nominee A P J Abdul Kalam.
“Only Left and JD(S) had then put up freedom fighter Lakshmi Sehgal as a candidate against Kalam. At that time, Congress found it difficult to oppose Kalam. When Kalam was proposed by NDA, we had advised Congress to jointly put up another Muslim candidate, A M Ahmadi, former Chief Justice of India, but perhaps the Congress did not want to antagonise the would-be President,” a JD (S) leader said.
Former Union Minister and RJD leader Jaiprakash Yadav declined to reveal his party stand on fielding an Opposition candidate, saying everything will be clear tomorrow at the Opposition meeting. Both RJD chief Lalu Prasad and Jaiprakash Yadav will be at the meeting.
A source in RJD, however, gave clear indication of the thinking in the party saying “there is no question of an ideological compromise”. At the earlier meeting of the Opposition committee on a presidential nominee, Lalu Prasad had backed the idea of an Opposition candidate.
INLD Lok Sabha MP Dushyant Chautala, grandson of Om Prakash Chautala, told The Indian Express that his party has called a meeting of its executive body on Friday, a day after the Opposition meeting, to discuss the presidential polls. “We will see what kind of Opposition candidate is suggested at tomorrow’s meeting. Then we will decide at our party meeting on Friday… whether the Opposition candidate is such that we can back,” he said.
He also pointed out that the BJP is in a position to win the election. He cited the support it already has from other parties. Asked should it be assumed that INLD is getting ready to support the NDA pick, Chautala said: “I will not comment on that.” After a meeting between Union Minister M Venkaiah Naidu and Om Prakash Chautala, the BJP indicated that Chautala gave a “positive” response.
An NCP meeting in the national capital to take a final call has been postponed as Sharad Pawar is still in Mumbai. The party will make its stand clear Thursday. “So far, nothing has been decided,” NCP general secretary Tariq Anwar said.
Naresh Agrawal from SP said every time elections are not fought just for wining but also to give a message. “Why do we fight in Parliament on issues? There are a number of things in which a message is given. A candidate was also put up when NDA had fielded Abdul Kalam. Was the election then fought to win polls,” he asked.
JD(U) general secretary K C Tyagi said: “Our decision to support Kovind’s candidature in the presidential election is an isolated incident. This will not affect the overall Opposition unity and we are for larger Opposition unity and will always be there.”