In a big blow to the Opposition, the JD-U on Wednesday decided to back the NDA nominee Ram Nath Kovind for President post. The JDU also decided to skip the opposition meeting in New Delhi on Thursday. “JD-U has decided to support Kovind in the presidential election. Since the party has decided to support the NDA nominee, there is no need to attend the meeting of the opposition parties convened by Congress President Sonia Gandhi,” Janata Dal-United spokesman Rajiv Ranjan said. He also said that the party’s decision has been conveyed to Gandhi and Lalu Prasad, the chief of coalition partner RJD.
Talking about the party decision, JD(U) spokesperson KC Tyagi said, “We decided to extend support to NDA’s presidential candidate Ram Nath Kovind as his tenure as Governor had been peaceful.” Earlier on Wednesday, there were reports that Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had told the party lawmakers to vote for Kovind in the upcoming presidential election on July 17.
The JD-U decision came as a shock for the 17-party front led by Congress which is meeting in New Delhi on Thursday to decide on its strategy in the Presidential election, most probably putting up a candidate in what the Left parties called an “ideological battle”. It remains to be seen whether BSP, which has also said that it cannot oppose a Dalit candidate unless the opposition has a more popular Dalit nominee, attends the opposition meeting.
For the record, the Congress said the question whether they would be putting up a candidate against Kovind will be known only after Thursday’s meeting.
However, CPI-M General Secretary Sitaram Yechury was more clear when he said there would be a “strong candidate” against Kovind. “The question is of a political battle — whether the basics of our Constitution would be protected or RSS would convert the country into a Hindu Rashtra (nation),” Yechury said.
“There should be no talk about whether a Dalit should be there (be a President)… caste or religion. Whoever would be the protector of the Constitution should be above caste and religion,” he said adding that his party would attend the opposition’s meeting on Thursday.
CPI leader D. Raja acknowledged that the JD-U move, if correct, was a setback to the opposition. “17 paties came together on the issue of Presidential election and if some parties take a different decision…We have a meeting tomorrow. Let us see how many parties are going to attend,” he said.
The names doing the rounds as possible opposition candidates include former Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar and former Maharashtra Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde, both of the Congress and both Dalits.
The NDA, including Shiv Sena and the PDP of Jammu and Kashmir, which has extended support to Kovind, commands the support of 48.93 per cent in the electoral college made up of MPs and MLAs.
With the backing of parties outside the alliance like TRS (2 per cent), AIADMK (5.39 per cent), YSR Congress (1.53 per cent) and BJD (2.99 per cent), the NDA’s support would cross the half way mark comfortably to reach nearly 63 per cent in the July 17 battle, with JD-U contributing 1.91 per cent.
With President Pranab Mukherjee’s term ending on July 24, the presidential election will be held on July 17 and the results will be declared on July 28.
(With inputs from agencies)