Updated: June 21, 2022 8:42:14 am
The Opposition’s elusive search for a “true custodian of the Constitution” ahead of the election for the next occupant of Raisina Hill has landed in troubled waters with all three names floated so far opting out of the race.
On Monday, former West Bengal Governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi became the third proposed face, apart from NCP supremo Sharad Pawar and National Conference president Farooq Abdullah, to decline the request of the joint Opposition.
By quitting the race just a day ahead of the second round of discussions, convened by Pawar at Delhi’s Parliament Annexe, Gandhi made the task all the more difficult for the leaders who had a meeting last week where a decision was taken to field a consensus candidate.
“Having considered the matter deeply, I see that the Opposition’s candidate should be one who will generate a national consensus and a national atmosphere besides Opposition unity. I feel there will be others who will do this far better than I. And, so, I have requested the leaders to give the opportunity to such a person,” Gandhi said in a written statement released to the Press.
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There were signs of a consensus developing around Gandhi’s name, with even parties like AAP hinting that it might be acceptable to them due to his illustrious career straddling the world of diplomacy and academia.
“The idea was also to focus on the fact that he is Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson. In the 75th year of India’s Independence, that would have sent out a powerful message, especially when the forces behind the murder of the father of the nation are more emboldened than ever before,” said one opposition leader involved in the talks.
Even in 2017, the Opposition camp wanted to field Gandhi as its Presidential candidate, but the NDA’s decision to pick Ram Nath Kovind as its face had forced a rethink. Eventually former Lok Sabha speaker Meira Kumar, also a Dalit like Kovind, was fielded by the Opposition as its candidate for the President’s post, while Gandhi fought unsuccessfully for the post of vice-president.
While TMC sources are now pitching the name of former Union Minister Yashwant Sinha (84), who joined the party in March last year, as an alternative, the possibility of any unanimity on the former BJP leader’s name appears thin.
Sinha had served as finance minister and external affairs minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee cabinet. Initially seen as an LK Advani loyalist, Sinha fell out of the BJP patriarch’s good books in the later years.
He remained in the BJP till 2018 when he quit, alleging the country’s democracy was facing a “threat” under the Narendra Modi government. Although he had also announced his decision to quit party politics altogether, he is now serving as the TMC’s vice-president.
While Sinha’s political past may come in the way of any Opposition consensus around his name, the overall poll maths, which is heavily stacked against the Opposition, is also emerging as an obstacle, with leader’s refusing to enter a race headed for a seemingly predictable end — the victory of NDA’s yet-to-be-declared candidate.
The NDA already has over 48 per cent of the vote share in the electoral college for choosing the new President.
The decision of parties such as the AAP and TRS to remain non-committal has also complicated matters further for the Opposition camp. Both the parties had given the June 15 meeting convened by West Bengal Chief Minister and TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee a miss.
While Banerjee has also reached out to parties like the BJD and YSCRCP, no one is counting on their presence at the talks table. However, AIMIM, which was not invited to the last meeting, will be in attendance on Tuesday.
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