Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has said his party, the Biju Janata Dal (BJD), will support Ram Nath Kovind, the presidential nominee of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National
Democratic Alliance. The Biju Janata Dal isn’t part of the ‘united’ Opposition that comprises 17 parties. But some other constituents of this 17 parties front averse to putting up a joint Opposition candidate against Kovind.
These leaders argue the result of the presidential poll is a foregone conclusion, with NDA likely to muster more than 60 per cent of the electoral college votes in favour of Kovind. Their assessment is that the Opposition should not expend its political capital since BJP
has fielded Kovind, a Dalit who is not known for his aggressive Hindutva leanings. Instead, the Opposition should save its political capital to fight bigger battles, "expose" the "Modi government's anti-worker, anti-farmer and anti-poor policies” and focus on making the Bharat Bandh a success. Tentatively, the Bharat Bandh is likely to take place in the next fortnight.
Meanwhile, top leaders of Opposition parties have discussed former Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar and former Member of Parliament Prakash Ambedkar as their possible candidates against Kovind. Meira Kumar is the daughter of Dalit leader and former deputy prime minister Jagjivan Ram. Prakash Ambedkar is the grandson of Dalit icon BR Ambedkar.
The Left parties are insistent on putting up a symbolic ideological fight. The Congress is uncertain and a final decision is likely to be made at the meeting of the Opposition parties on Thursday. There is also the question of several parties unlikely to support Meira Kumar, since she is from the Congress.
Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati has said she would support Kovind, unless the Opposition puts up a Dalit candidate with better credentials. She has said that Kovind is from the Dalit sub-caste of Kolis from Uttar Pradesh. Mayawati might get persuaded to support an Opposition candidate if it is somebody as pedigreed as Prakash Ambedkar. But Janata Dal (United), which like BSP
also has significant support base among Dalits of Bihar, is averse to a contest.
“Where is the need for fielding a Dalit versus a Dalit. Isn’t this what upper castes have been up to all these years? Kovind is a good name. There are greater battles ahead for Opposition unity, and we should focus on fighting those,” an Opposition leader from Bihar, who didn’t want to be identified, said. But he echoed the assessment of several of his colleagues in the Samajwadi Party, Janata Dal (United) and even the Congress.
There is also the precedence of 1997, when nearly every political party supported the candidature of KR Narayanan – the first Dalit to reach the highest office. At that time, Narayanan was the candidate of the United Front government, which was supported from the outside by the Congress and Communist Party of India (Marxist). The Communist Party of India (CPI) was part of the government, which included parties like Janata Dal and several regional parties.
Significantly, the Bharatiya Janata Party had also supported Narayanan’s candidature. Only Shiv Sena supported his rival former chief election commissioner TN Seshan. Kovind would become the second Dalit to be the president of India.
These leaders point out that the NDA has 48.6 per cent of the electoral college votes, and its victory is a foregone conclusion. NDA’s majority has increased to above 60 per cent of electoral college votes after Telangana Rashtra Samiti, Biju Janata Dal, YSR Congress Party
and All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) assuring their respective support to Kovind’s candidature.
For Janata Dal (United), support to Kovind would ensure that it continues to tell voters in Bihar that while Narendra Modi
might be good for the country, Nitish Kumar remains the best bet for Bihar. Similarly, Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik faces a resurgent BJP
in his state. By declaring his party’s support to the BJP’s presidential candidate, Patnaik has tried to send a message that Odisha is better off under his leadership and there is really not much difference politically between his BJD and BJP.
The two were allies from 1998 to 2009 in Odisha, just as JD (U) and BJP
were allies until 2013.