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United we stand: How Sonia got Oppn to agree on Meira Kumar as Presidential candidate

Pawar was told he would be the natural leader of the combined Opposition going into 2019 polls

Archis Mohan & Amit Agnihotri  |  New Delhi 

Congress President Sonia Gandhi with NCP chief Sharad Pawar, RJD supremo Lalu Prasad and other leaders at the announcement of Opposition's presidential nominee following a meeting. Photo: PTI
Congress President Sonia Gandhi with NCP chief Sharad Pawar, RJD supremo Lalu Prasad and other leaders at the announcement of Opposition's presidential nominee following a meeting. Photo: PTI

Today, 17 Opposition parties, with their sights focused on putting up a strong and united challenge to the Democratic Alliance (NDA) in the 2019 elections, decided to field former speaker as their presidential candidate, making the contest a versus race.

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

There was much drama that preceded the meeting held at the Parliament House Library at 4.30 pm.

Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad was unlikely to attend as he had to appear in a Ranchi court in the fodder scam case. But after JD (U) pulling out, leadership moved heaven and earth to ensure that Prasad attended the meeting. The hearing in Ranchi ended at 1pm and by 4 pm, Prasad had landed at the Delhi airport.

Emerging from the meeting, Prasad said he was holding an iftar in Patna on Friday and would appeal to his ally to rethink his decision of voting for the candidate. With several leaders in his party, including Sharad Yadav, unhappy at Nitish Kumar’s decision, the next few days in could be interesting. But Prasad said the JD(U) and RJD alliance was intact.

But another crucial 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 the meeting. Others present were NCP’s Praful Patel and Tariq Anwar. 

With Pawar dithering, Azad asked Communist Party of India (Marxist) chief to also join him and the rest at Pawar’s residence. Eventually, Pawar relented but not before others dropped broad hints to him that he would be the natural leader of the combined Opposition going into the 2019 polls.

Opposition leaders said the imprint of president in keeping the Opposition flock together was the highlight of the day. At the meeting, while Pawar argued for announcing the name of the candidate on Friday. All others insisted that the name be announced today 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 leaders have come from distant corners of the country and it would save time if papers were signed today. However, the signing was ensured today to prevent any of the parties changing their stand “under pressure”. Prasad even voiced his concern.

Later, leaders pointed out how it was who had initiated discussions on the need for Opposition to put up a common candidate but was now singing a different tune.

At the meeting, chief welcomed the opposition leaders and then asked Pawar to start the discussion. He suggested three names---Sushil Kumar Shinde, Bhalchandra Mungekar and

Yechury said his party had first thought of Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson Gopalkrishna Gandhi, but said the former governor has requested Opposition parties to reconsider his candidature in view of fielding a leader. Yechury mentioned the name of Prakash Ambedkar, grandson of icon BR Ambedkar, with Janata Dal (Secular)’s Danish Ali seconding him. But the two said their parties would agree to the consensus candidate.

Trinamool Congress’ Derek O’Brien said his party chief Mamata Banerjee supported Meira Kumar’s candidature. RJD chief Prasad backed He said is the daughter of and would be a suitable opponent to NDA’s Kovind. He spoke of her political legacy and her stint as a diplomat.

Bahujan Samaj Party leader Satish Chandra Mishra and Samajwadi Party’s Ram Gopal Yadav and Naresh Aggarwal also supported her candidature, as did Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s Kanimozhi.

It was then suggested that someone from the should speak to before announcing her name as the Opposition’s presidential nominee. Sonia Gandhi’s close aide Ahmed Patel then stepped out and spoke to the former speaker.

Yechury then prepared the draft which Azad read out to the media. is likely to file her nomination on June 27 or 28. June 28 is the last date to file nominations.

First Published: Fri, June 23 2017. 09:55 IST
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