Jolt for Opposition as Nitish backs Kovind

JD(U) not to attend today's meeting

Jolt for Opposition as Nitish backs Kovind

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s decision to support Ram Nath Kovind, the NDA’s Presidential candidate, has thrown the Opposition’s plans into disarray.

The JD(U), headed by Nitish, announced the decision a day ahead of a meeting to choose a joint Opposition candidate from four probables, with former Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar as the front-runner.

The JD(U) will skip Thursday’s meeting called by Congress president Sonia Gandhi, but insisted the party’s alliance with the Congress and the Lalu Prasad-led RJD would continue.

Though Nitish’s decision is not a total surprise, some leaders feel it takes the sting out of the fight. Incidentally, he was one of the first to moot the idea of a joint Opposition candidate.

Four probables

Sources said the Opposition’s choice has now narrowed down to four names — Congress leaders Meira and Sushil Kumar Shinde, B R Ambedkar’s grandson Prakash Ambedkar and former Rajya Sabha MP Balachandra Mungerkar.

Though the Left parties would prefer Mungerkar or Ambedkar, sources said Meira, who met Sonia on Wednesday, could emerge as the joint choice, keeping the sensibilities of parties like BSP in mind.
“She has more acceptability now. Leaders don’t see her as a Congress candidate, but as a former Speaker,” a senior non-Congress Opposition leader said.

Soon after the JD(U) announced its decision, and amid wavering by some parties, senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad telephoned CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury to convey Sonia’s message that her party was “determined to fight”.

“The Left is for a contest. The contest is not about the character of the candidate, but a political fight. We want somebody who can safeguard Constitutional values,” Yechury said.

Before this, all eyes were on Patna, even though Nitish had told alliance partners Sonia and Lalu that he could not oppose Kovind, a Maha Dalit and till recently governor of Bihar, with whom he enjoyed a good relationship. Sharad Yadav, senior JD(U) leader initially considered as a Presidential probable, fell in line with Nitish’s choice after being told it was a “one-time decision”.

“The support to Kovind has nothing to do with the Grand Alliance in Bihar. Nitish’s support to the NDA nominee was due to personal reasons and is limited only to the Presidential election,” JD(U) spokesperson K C Tyagi told reporters in Patna.

However, RJD legislator Bhai Birendra, a close Lalu aide, said, “Nitish has ditched the Grand Alliance and wrecked Opposition unity.”

Meira is front-runner

So, who will the Opposition field against Kovind? Sources said Congress leader Sushil Kumar Shinde’s name had come up, but some leaders opposed him because he had rubbed them the wrong way during his tenure as Union home minister.

BSP president Mayawati is unlikely to accept Prakash Ambedkar, Dr B R Ambedkar’s grandson and one of four candidates on the Opposition shortlist, they said.

The front-runner is former Lok Sabha speaker Meira Kumar. “There was opposition to Meira Kumar’s name. But it has withered away now. She is more acceptable than Shinde,” a senior leader said.

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