An attempt would be made in the coming days to persuade a reluctant NCP chief Sharad Pawar to be the Opposition’s Presidential candidate, sources said after top leaders of 17 Opposition parties met at a lunch hosted by Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Friday. At the meeting, attended among others by state rivals such as the Left and the Trinamool Congress and the BSP and the Samajwadi Party, the parties are learnt to have decided to hold their horses and await the government’s move. Officially, the leaders said no names was discussed for President and Vice-President.
The leaders said they are willing to “consider” if the ruling coalition proposes an “acceptable” name. Sources in the Opposition said they believe Pawar’s candidature could help garner support from the NDA. “He is not keen. We will try and persuade him because he is the only one who can break the Shiv Sena,” a senior Opposition leader said. Many parties are agreeable to fielding former West Bengal Governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi.
At the meeting, Pawar is learnt to have said that names should not be discussed in such a forum — the gathering had 31 leaders — as this could create confusion. He said a smaller committee of three or four leaders should be formed to discuss and decide the candidates, a suggestion which was accepted. There was no representation from the AIADMK, BJD and the Aam Aadmi Party.
In a joint statement, the parties said the “normal practice has been that the ruling party takes the initiative to build a consensus on the names of candidates for these important posts (and) this has not happened so far. If acceptable candidates do not emerge, then we (Opposition parties) shall decide to field such persons who shall steadfastly defend the Constitutional values of our republic.”
The CPI’s D Raja said: “No names were taken…. That shows the maturity of the parties. At this time, how can anybody take names?” The Opposition, however, appears a divided house. While West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee and her Bihar counterpart Nitish Kumar favour a second term for President Pranab Mukherjee, sources in the Congress said Mukherjee is averse to being pitted against an NDA nominee, a battle he is certain to lose. “No incumbent President will contest to lose,” a Congress leader said.
The government is believed to be not keen on a second term for Mukherjee. Leaders said today’s meeting had a “huge symbolic and political” value. The joint statement said: “Opposition parties expressed their resolve to strengthen floor coordination in Parliament to unitedly oppose this government’s policies that are imposing unprecedented burden on all sections of our people, farmers, working people, youth, SC/STs, minorities, women and other weaker sections of society in various parts of the country.”
Many leaders, including the National Conference’s Omar Abdullah, touched upon the “worsening situation” in Kashmir and the anti-Dalit violence in Saharanpur, UP.