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National Democratic Alliance (NDA) candidate Ram Nath Kovind on Friday filed his nomination papers for the presidential polls and sought all-round support, vowing to keep the highest constitutional office above "party politics”. Watched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a battery of NDA chief ministers and top BJP leaders, 71-year-old Kovind filed the papers for the July 17 polls with the Congress-led opposition nominee Meira Kumar being his rival in a ‘Dalit versus Dalit’ battle. The candidature of Kumar, a former Lok Sabha Speaker, was announced on Friday. With more than 60 per cent of the members of the president's electoral college pledging to back Kovind, the election of the lawyer-turned politician as the 14th president to succeed Pranab Mukherjee is virtually certain. Nominations close on June 28 and counting of votes will be taken up on July 20.
The term of President Mukherjee ends on July 24. BJP President Amit Shah and party veterans L K Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi were present during the filing of nominations. All chief ministers of BJP-ruled states and its allies except Manohar Parrikar of Goa and Mehbooba Mufti of Jammu & Kashmir besides their counterparts K Chandrashekar Rao (Telangana) and Edappadi K Palaniswami (Tamil Nadu) were among those present. Kovind will start a nation-wide tour on June 25, stopping first in Uttar Pradesh, where he will talk to members of the electoral college that votes for the new president. The former Bihar governor will be accompanied by senior BJP leader and Union minister Nitin Gadkari in the UP leg of the tour. Besides NDA constituents, which comprise over 48.6 per cent of votes in the electoral college that will elect the next president, regional parties such as the AIADMK, BJD, TRS and JD(U) have announced their support to Kovind. On Friday, JD (U) leader and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar ruled out any change in his party’s stand on supporting Kovind and attacked the Congress for propping up Bihar ki beti Kumar as the opposition's candidate for a lost cause. The Congress, meanwhile, urged the TRS to reconsider support to Kovind. "Should a person who is opposed to reservation for Muslim and Christian minorities occupy the post of the President," Telangana Congress chief N Uttam Kumar Reddy said. Reddy was referring to a seven-year-old remark of Kovind in which he reportedly said that Islam and Christianity were “alien” to India.