Former administrator, diplomat and Governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi Wednesday said that Opposition leaders have reached out to him with a proposal to field him as the joint Opposition candidate for the forthcoming Presidential elections. Gandhi is the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi. “Yes, I have been spoken to. But the conversations have been of a very preliminary nature. It would not be right for me to say anything beyond that,” Gandhi told The Indian Express.
Sources in the Opposition said a broad consensus is emerging on two names: Gandhi and that of former Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar. But many Opposition parties are not keen on a Congress nominee as the presidential candidate. While Gandhi said it would not be right on his part to “speculate more”, sources said both Congress president Sonia Gandhi and CPM General Secretary Sitaram Yechury have spoken to him. West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee is also said to be keen on Gandhi.
Also read | Who is Gopalkrishna Gandhi?
Banerjee had in 2012 proposed Gandhi for the post of Vice President but he had declined. Sources said the names of Gandhi and Kumar along with political faces like NCP’s Sharad Pawar and JD(U)’s Sharad Yadav are being discussed. Sources said the names of Gandhi and Kumar came up for discussion when Yechury met the Congress president last month.
Gandhi had held a series of meetings with senior Opposition leaders including Pawar, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, Sharad Yadav and CPI’s S Sudhakar Reddy and D Raja while Yechury met fence-sitters like BJD’s Naveen Patnaik and YSRCP’s Jagan Mohan Reddy who today, interestingly, said his party would back the BJP candidate.
Reddy had a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi today.
Congress sources said Sonia Gandhi is expected to meet Banerjee and BSP chief Mayawati in third week of May. Senior Opposition leaders said they are no hurry to announce the candidate and would wait for the ruling party’s move. “It depends on who the opposite side is. If it is Jharkhand Governor Draupadi Murmu, then Kumar could be a good choice,” a senior leader said. Murmu is a tribal leader from Odisha while Kumar is one of the Congress’s prominent Dalit faces from Bihar.
But everyone is aware that many Opposition parties are not keen on a Congress leader as the joint presidential candidate. The Congress has already indicated that it would not insist on a Congress name as the candidate to ensure there is no rupture in Opposition unity. Incidentally, Gandhi’s term as Governor of West Bengal was marked by confrontation with the then Left Front government on many issues, especially during the Nandigram episode.
“If the ruling alliance foists a person with an RSS background, then it would be a good choice to field Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson himself,” a senior leader said. “Now it is a battle of attrition. Whether they will declare first or we will declare first,” a senior leader said when asked when would the Opposition announce its candidate.
Meanwhile, in a setback for the opposition, Jagan Mohan Reddy declared his support to the BJP candidate. “We will support any candidate the BJP fields as we have very less difference in opinion. Except for differences on the land acquisition bill and special status for Andhra Pradesh, we share similar opinions on various issues which we think are pro-people,” Jagan said after a meeting with the Prime Minister. “Also, the BJP has enough support for its candidate to win. Opposing their candidate and fielding another will not make sense,” he said.