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Communist Party of India (Marxist) chief Sitaram Yechury afforded a smile on Tuesday afternoon when 18 Opposition parties, including Trinamool Congress, his party's bitter rival in West Bengal, agreed to the earlier suggestion of the Left parties to field Gopalkrishna Gandhi as their common candidate for the vice-presidential poll.
Earlier, Yechury, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, Communist Party of India's D Raja and some others had suggested that Gandhi, a former diplomat, be fielded as the Opposition's presidential candidate. Gopalkrishna Gandhi is the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi. C Rajagopalachari, the first governor-general of India and freedom fighter from Tamil Nadu, was his maternal grandfather.
Those backing 72-year-old former West Bengal governor had argued that fielding him against a Sangh Parivar candidate would make it into a 'Gandhi versus Godse battle'. The Mahatma was assassinated by Nathuram Godse, a member of the Hindu Mahasabha.
At the time, some among the Opposition had advised patience to allow Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led coalition to announce its presidential candidate. In the event, the Opposition had to respond with the name of former Speaker Meira Kumar, when National Democratic Alliance announced Ram Nath Kovind's candidature.
In the run-up to today's meeting, the Left and others had also floated the name of former Supreme Court Judge V Gopala Gowda as a possible substitute to Gopalkrishna Gandhi if the latter were to turn down their request to contest the vice-presidential poll.
At the meeting, the parties unanimously agreed to his name. Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad said that Gopalkrishna Gandhi's was the only name discussed and agreed upon within the first 15 minutes. Once decided, Opposition leaders Yechury, Azad and Trinamool Congress' Derek O'Brien stepped out of the meeting room to inform Gopalkrishna Gandhi, who at the time was delivering a lecture at the Ashoka University in Sonepat, Haryana.
"He asked for 10-15 minutes to consider (the offer) after which he was again called on the telephone and he agreed to be the candidate for vice-president of India," Sonia Gandhi said.
O'Brien was the first to propose Gopalkrishna Gandhi's name and was followed by Bahujan Samaj Party's Satish Misra, Yechury and then all others. The nomination papers have been signed by the leaders, including JD(U)'s Sharad Yadav, O'Brien said.
After the split in their unity when JD(U) broke ranks to support the National Democratic Alliance's presidential candidate, the Opposition on Tuesday strived to showcase consensus and coordination. Gopalkrishna Gandhi is likely to file his nomination on July 17. The Opposition is hopeful the choice of Gopalkrishna Gandhi, grandson of C Rajagopalachari could influence AIADMK to vote for him.
The vice-presidential election will take place on August 5 and votes will be counted the same evening. The BJP-led NDA has an overwhelming majority in the vice-presidential electoral college. The BJP parliamentary board is to hold its meeting in the next couple of days to announce its candidate.
During the meeting, the opposition parties also passed a resolution condemning the attack on Amarnath pilgrims and termed it an attack on humanity and on India's plurality and diversity.
The floor strategy for the upcoming Parliament session starting July 17 came up for discussion. It was decided to raise issues like the plight of farmers and their suicides, the fallout of Goods and Services Tax (GST) and demonetisation.