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With the start of the presidential poll process, the leaders of the opposition parties will huddle tomorrow to chalk out their strategy and decide on a consensus candidate. The 10-member sub-group of the opposition is scheduled to meet at the office of the Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha in Parliament in the afternoon.
This will be the first meeting of the sub-group since its formation. Sources said the opposition leaders would discuss the probable names for the highest constitutional post in the country, but would await a government initiative in this regard. A united opposition, after several rounds of parleys between the leaders of various parties, is hoping to zero in on a "mutually acceptable" presidential candidate with the ruling dispensation. In case that does not happen, it will put up a united opposition candidate against the official NDA nominee. The sources said Ghulam Nabi Azad and Mallikarjun Kharge would represent the Congress party in the 10-member group, which also includes other senior opposition leaders such as Janata Dal-United's Sharad Yadav, Rashtriya Janata Dal's Lalu Prasad and CPI-M's Sitaram Yechury. Nationalist Congress Party's (NCP) Praful Patel, Samajwadi Party's Ram Gopal Yadav, Bahujan Samaj Party's Satish Chandra Misra, Trinamool Congress' Derek O'Brien and DMK's Rajya Sabha member R S Bharathi are also part of the opposition panel. The panel was formed after a united opposition met at a lunch hosted by Congress president Sonia Gandhi in Parliament on May 26, where it was decided that if the ruling dispensation failed to come up with a candidate with "secular credentials", the opposition would field someone who would "steadfastly defend" the country's constitutional values. While the ruling party is holding its cards close to its chest, the opposition has already mooted the names of the possible candidates and has even held talks with one -- former West Bengal Governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi. A retired bureaucrat and an erudite scholar, he is a grandson of Mahatma Gandhi. Among the other names doing the rounds are those of former Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar and former Union minister Sharad Pawar, though the NCP strongman has denied being in the race. The official notification for the presidential poll will be issued tomorrow with which the process for filing of nominations would start. Polling to elect the next president will be held on July 17 and the counting of votes will take place on July 20. The term of incumbent Pranab Mukherjee ends on July 24.