Eighteen opposition parties Tuesday decided to field former diplomat and Governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi as the consensus candidate for Vice Presidential elections. By announcing its nominee before the ruling NDA and by fielding Gandhi, grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, the Opposition hopes to set the agenda for the polls due next month.
Many senior leaders in Congress and other parties are of the view that the Opposition failed to secure the first-mover advantage in Presidential polls by delaying announcement of its candidate. Gandhi was sounded out about his candidature before the parties met. Once there was unanimity, a call was made to him.
“I accept the nomination with the seriousness it calls for. I applaud the unity and conviction with which I was asked to accept it,” Gandhi told The Indian Express. Several leaders said he is an ideal choice for putting up a political and ideological fight against the ruling combine. His secular credentials, track record as an administrator and diplomat and the intellectual heft he would bring to the candidacy made him the unanimous choice, they said.
The presence of JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav at the Opposition meeting was the surprise element — so much so that when Yadav said he agreed with Gandhi’s name, Congress president Sonia Gandhi and CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury, it is learnt, wanted to confirm whether it is his personal view or that of his party.
Gandhi’s name was proposed by Trinamool Congress’s Derek O’Brien as he spoke first at the meeting after Sonia made the initial remarks. All those who spoke after him agreed, and no other names were discussed.
The CPI(M), which had names of some retired judges in mind, did not propose those names when it sensed the mood. Gandhi was incidentally the CPI(M)’s first choice in the Presidential elections.
Once there was unanimity, Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad, O’Brien and Yechury spoke with Gandhi. He sought 15 minutes to convey his decision. “We did not surprise him by suddenly calling him up,” O’ Brien said. “Obviously there were talks before this and we had got a broad agreement. His only issue was…he was very agreeable… but he wanted to know that whether all parties are on board. We assured him.”
Yechury said, “There can be no better candidate than Gopalkrishna Gandhi for the post. We hope he will be elected unanimously.”
O’Brien said Gandhi’s candidature was decided in just 15 minutes. “Only one name was proposed. Only one name was endorsed…” he said.
Sonia announced Gandhi’s candidature.
Although Sharad Yadav told the leaders that the decision to back Gandhi was his party’s view. they ensured that he sign on one of the nomination papers as one of the seconders. The proposers in the four forms were Sonia, O’Brien, BSP’s Satish Chandra Mishra and Yechury.
The naming of Gandhi makes it difficult for JD(U) chief Nitish Kumar to have a rethink on it, as he had backed his name as Opposition’s Presidential candidate during a gathering of Opposition leaders in Chennai.
Former J&K CM Omar Abdullah said his party agreed with the name, but pointed out that since both Gandhi and Presidential candidate Meira Kumar are fighting losing battles, they should be remembered when an election comes up where the opposition is in a position to win.
The election for the Vice President’s post, if required, will take place on August 5. Votes will be counted the same evening.