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Opposition leaders today met to chalk out a strategy for the upcoming presidential poll but no names were discussed in the first round of talks of a nine- party sub-group set up for the purpose, members said. As the process for the filing of nominations for the July 17 election started, 10 opposition leaders met in the Parliament chamber of the Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha, Ghulam Nabi Azad. The leaders including Azad and Mallikarjun Kharge from the Congress, JD-U's Sharad Yadav, RJD's Lalu Prasad, CPI-M's Sitaram Yechury and NCP's Praful Patel. Derek O'Brien of the TMC, R S Bharathi of the DMK, Ram Gopal Yadav of the SP and Satish Chandra Misra from the BSP were also present at the 10 -member group's meeting. Azad said leaders of 17 opposition parties had met at a lunch hosted by Congress President Sonia Gandhi last month, where it was decided a sub committee would be set up to take forward discussions on the issue. "A sub committee was formed in which leaders of nine parties were included, as there was need for a smaller committee," he said. This was the first meeting of the group today. "The nitty gritty details were not discussed. No names have been short-listed yet," he said after the 30-minute meeting. The ruling party has formed a three-member committee to discuss the possibility of a consensus candidate with allies and opposition parties. Azad said it had started contacting opposition leaders. "The process has just started. In such conditions, the selection of a final candidate is impossible. In the next few days this sub committee will meet again and probably we will hold detailed discussions then," he said. The BJP panel comprising Union ministers Rajnath Singh, Arun Jaitley and M Venkaiah Naidu has reached out to Congress president Sonia Gandhi, Yechury, BSP's Misra and NCP's Patel and would be meeting the leaders of these parties separately to discuss the issue of a joint candidate. The panel would meet Gandhi on Friday. Azad said by the time the 10-member group meets, the ruling party would have consulted opposition leaders, who would then be in a better position to discuss candidates. Asked if the government was trying to break opposition unity, he said, "The government is going to talk to opposition leaders separately and not collectively.
All opposition parties are totally united." RJD's Lalu Prasad stressed the election was not just for choosing the President and the Vice President. "It is a preparation for the next election. The aim is to remove the BJP," he said after the meeting. Asked about the Shiv Sena throwing up BJP leader L K Advani's name as a possible candidate, he said, "You wait and see what happens." Patel said Venkaiah Naidu had called him and wanted to have formal talks with him and NCP strongman Sharad Pawar. "The government will come out with their name and then we will evolve our strategy in the next few days," he said. Misra of the BSP said Naidu had called him, too, and asked for a meeting with party leader Mayawati. "They will talk and we will see. They have expressed the desire to meet my leader in the next few days," he said. Sources said the opposition committee is likely to meet next week again to decide on a suitable presidential nominee. While the ruling party is holding its cards close to its chest, the opposition has already mooted the names of possible candidates and has even held talks with one -- former West Bengal Governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi. A retired bureaucrat and a scholar, he is one of Mahatma Gandhi's grandsons. Former Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar's name is also doing the rounds, as is that of former Union minister Sharad Pawar. The NCP leader, however, has denied being in the race. The official notification for the presidential poll was issued today, starting the process for filing of nominations for the July 17 poll. Counting will take place on July 20. The term of incumbent Pranab Mukherjee ends on July 24.
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