NDA's presidential nominee Ram Nath Kovind today met MLAs and MPs of the BJP and its allies in Maharashtra and called up Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray to thank him for supporting his candidature in the July 17 poll.
Lawmakers of the BJP and its allies, the Shiv Sena, the Rashtriya Samaj Paksha (RSP) and the RPI(A), were present at the meeting where Kovind outlined his priorities once he is elected to the country's top constitutional post.
Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, state BJP president Raosaheb Danve, Union ministers Nitin Gadkari, Ramdas Athawale (RPI-A), Anant Geete (Shiv Sena), BJP leader Kailash Vijayvargiya and state minister Mahadev Jankar (RSP), and a few Independent MLAs were among those present.
Though Kovind did not visit Thackeray's residence 'Matoshree' at suburban Bandra, he spoke with the Sena chief over phone and thanked him for his party's support to him.
Pranab Mukherjee and Pratibha Patil, as presidential candidates of the UPA, had visited 'Matoshree' and met then Sena supremo Bal Thackeray. The party had broken ranks with the BJP-led NDA in the past two presidential elections (2007, 2012) and voted for the Congress-backed nominees.
Addressing the MLAs and MPs, Kovind said he would uphold the sanctity of the Constitution and work towards ensuring justice for all after he became the president.
"We all have the duty to preserve the importance of the Constitution of India. I would ensure equal justice to all and avoid discrimination based on caste, religion, sect, gender and region," he said.
The former Bihar governor, who was in Mumbai for merely three hours after which he left for Goa, said there should be a comprehensive growth of all the states.
"My priority would be to address the aspirations of the youth and push for promotion and modernisation of education," he said.
According to a senior BJP leader, of the 239 elected NDA representatives from the state, where the BJP is in power in alliance with the Shiv Sena and some smaller parties, not even 150 attended the meeting.
"It was expected that all the representatives would attend the meet. We can understand Union ministers like Piyush Goyal (a Rajya Sabha member from the state) not attending the meet due to their busy schedule, but MLAs and MPs, who are comparatively free, could have attended the meeting," the BJP leader said.
The ruling BJP has 122 MLAs, while Shiv Sena has 63 legislators in the state. The NDA's total number of voters in the presidential polls from Maharashtra, with the MPs and Rajya Sabha members put together, is 239.
Gadkari described Kovind as an "outstanding person" who had "great dedication" for public service.
"The NDA has chosen the right candidate for the post of president. He will get overwhelming support from Maharashtra," the Union minister said.
Fadnavis said Kovind had organisational and administrative skills and was also a constitutional expert.
Danve spoke about Kovind's clean image, simplicity and modesty and asserted, "His victory is certain as there are 239 voters from Maharashtra who are with the NDA while the UPA has only 98 voters (from the state)."
Maharashtra minister and senior Sena leader Subhash Desai said Thackeray had asked the party legislators to ensure the victory of the NDA candidate.
Athawale said everyone was happy that Kovind, who is associated with the Dalit movement started by B R Ambedkar, would be the country's next president.
Senior Shiv Sena leader and Maharashtra minister Eknath Shinde sought to downplay the issue of Kovind not visiting 'Matoshree'.
"We have already extended our support to Kovind. As per Uddhav Thackeray's orders, all the MLAs and MPs of Shiv Sena have decided to vote for him," he said.
"Kovind thanked Uddhav Thackeray today in his speech for extending support to his candidature. As Kovind had to visit a couple of more states after the Mumbai tour, we did not insist on him visiting 'Matoshree'," Shinde said.
A visit to Thackeray's residence 'Matoshree' at suburban Bandra was not in Kovind's itinerary.
MP Raju Shetti of the Swabhimani Shetakari Sanghatana, who was present when Kovind filed his nomination, was absent today as he was busy with a farmers' rally.
Maharashtra is the second largest state in terms of Assembly and Parliamentary seats.
The voting for the presidential election is scheduled on Monday and the counting will take place on July 20.