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Dalit vs Dalit presidential race: Oppn to field Meira Kumar against Kovind

Consensus choice of 17 parties makes it a Dalit vs Dalit contest

Archis Mohan & Amit Agnihotri  |  New Delhi 

File photo of Meira Kumar and Sonia Gandhi
File photo of former Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar (left) with Congress President Sonia Gandhi in Sasaram. Photo: PTI

A total of 17 Opposition parties, with their sights focused on putting up a strong and united challenge to the ruling Democratic Alliance (NDA) in the 2019 Lok Sabha election, decided to field former Lok Sabha speaker as their presidential candidate.

This makes the contest a Dalit versus Dalit race. Kumar is likely to file her nomination on Tuesday or Wednesday, the latter being the last day to do so.

The choice of Kumar, who hails from Bihar and is the daughter of the late Dalit icon, Jagjivan Ram, is also expected to put pressure on Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and his Janata Dal (United) legislators to cast “conscience votes” in her favour. On Wednesday, the JD (U) had decided to support candidate

There was much drama that preceded the meeting at the Parliament House Library at 4.30 pm. Rashtriya Janata Dal chief seemed unlikely to attend, as he had to appear in a Ranchi court in the fodder scam case. However, after the JD(U) said it was pulling out, the party leadership strove to ensure Prasad came. The hearing in Ranchi ended at 1 pm and by 4 pm, he’d landed at the Delhi airport.

Emerging from the meet, Prasad said he was holding an iftar event in Patna on Friday and would appeal to ally Nitish Kumar, to rethink. With several leaders in the JD(U), including Sharad Yadav, unhappy at Nitish Kumar’s decision, the next few days in Bihar could be interesting. That aside, Prasad said the JD(U) and alliance was intact.

But, another needed ally, Nationalist Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar, needed to be placated before the meeting. leaders Ghulam Nabi Azad and Ahmed Patel sat with Pawar for over three hours to persuade him to attend. Others present were the NCP’s Praful Patel and Tariq Anwar. With Pawar dithering, Azad asked Communist Party of India (Marxist) chief to join him and the rest at Pawar’s residence. Eventually, Pawar relented but not before the others dropped broad hints to him that he would be the natural leader of the combined Opposition going into the 2019 poll.
Opposition leaders said the imprint of president in keeping the flock together was the day's highlight. At the meeting, while Pawar argued for announcing the name of the candidate on Friday, others insisted it be done on Thursday itself. This is where Sonia Gandhi, supported by Yechury and Azad, stood firm to request all Opposition leaders to sign the nomination papers of there itself. Azad said it would save time; another reason was to ensure against anyone changing their stand.

At the meeting, welcomed the others and then asked Pawar to start the discussion. He suggested three names — Sushilkumar Shinde, Bhalchandra Mungekar and

Yechury said his party had first thought of Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson, Gopalkrishna Gandhi, but the former governor has requested this be reconsidered, as the was fielding a Dalit. Yechury mentioned the name of Prakash Ambedkar, grandson of dalit icon B R Ambedkar, with the Janata Dal (Secular)’s Danish Ali seconding him. But, the two also said their parties would agree to a consensus candidate.

The Trinamool Congress’ Derek O’Brien said his party chief, Mamata Banerjee, supported Meira Kumar’s candidature. chief Prasad backed Meira Kumar, as a daughter of Bihar and a suitable opponent to the NDA’s Kovind. He spoke of her political legacy and her stint as a diplomat. Bahujan Samaj Party’s Satish Chandra Mishra and the Samajwadi Party’s Ram Gopal Yadav and Naresh Aggarwal also supported her candidature.

First Published: Fri, June 23 2017. 09:15 IST