The Opposition has decided to field former Lok Sabha speaker Meira Kumar against NDA candidate Ram Nath Kovind in the July 17 presidential election. Seventeen Opposition parties met at the Parliament library on Thursday to deliberate on a consensus candidate and have unanimously picked Meira Kumar as their nominee. Announcing her candidature at a press conference in Delhi, Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad said: “Opposition parties have unanimously proposed the name of Meira Kumar for the upcoming Rashtrapathi Election…”
He then went on to illustrate her work in public life. Calling her a “crusader for social justice”, Azad said the Opposition couldn’t have picked a better candidate. Meira Kumar has worked in various Indian missions across the world as an IFS officer. The five-time Lok Sabha MP was the union minister for Water Resources in the United Progressive Alliance government. Meira Kumar has also served as Lok Sabha speaker from 2009 to 2014.
When asked by reporters how the meeting played out, CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury said: “Between the other four names we considered — Meira Kumar, Sushil Kumar Shinde, Bhalchandra Mungekar and Prakash Ambedkar — the point was we chose a name on which everyone agreed. It was an unanimous choice of all the Opposition parties and we have appealed to others in the opposition to support her.”
The 72-year-old Congress leader met party president Sonia Gandhi at the latter’s residence on Wednesday, fueling speculation that she has emerged as the frontrunner for the presidential nomination.
The Opposition’s plan to take on the NDA faced a setback as the Janata Dal (United) has favoured Kovind, who was the Bihar Governor. The Janata Dal (Secular) have also reportedly sided with the NDA pick, leading to cracks in the Opposition camp. JD(U)’s ally in Bihar, RJD has, however, backed the idea of fielding an Opposition candidate. Speaking to reporters outside the Parliament today, RJD chief Lalu Prasad said: “Nitish ji called me, said that it is his personal decision. I would appeal to him to rethink. Won’t break alliance.” He said the Opposition was fighting an ideological battle with the NDA and not the merits and demerits of a candidate.
At today’s Opposition meeting, Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh, A K Antony, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Sharad Pawar, Ahmed Patel, Sitaram Yechury, D Raja and Omar Abdullah were among the prominent leaders present. Though Trinamool Congress’ Mamata Banerjee, BSP’s Mayawati and SP’s Akhilesh Yadav gave the meeting a miss, they have sent their representatives. The Left were earlier in favour of former West Bengal Governor Gopal Krishna Gandhi or B R Ambedkar’s grandson Prakash, but it appears the Congress has put their weight behind Meira Kumar.