Oppn too plumps for dalit face, chooses Meira as Prez nominee

Oppn too plumps for dalit face, chooses Meira as Prez nominee

Oppn too plumps for dalit face, chooses Meira as Prez nominee
Former Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar of the Congress was today chosen as the opposition's joint candidate against NDA's Ram Nath Kovind in a 'dalit vs dalit' Presidential battle that saw Bihar's ruling alliance divided and the BSP getting out of a dilemma.

Though the numbers in the electoral college were stacked in favour of Kovind making his election as the 14th President a virtual certainty, the Congress-led opposition decided to put up a fight and also plumped for a dalit face for the July 17 polls. Both Kovind and Kumar are aged 72.

The decision to field Kumar was taken at a meeting of 17 non-NDA parties in Parliament House Library with the leaders unanimously endorsing the name of the diplomat-turned- politician.

"We have 17 opposition leaders present here and all of us have decided to jointly field Meira Kumar, an IFS officer, former Union Minister and former Speaker of Lok Sabha as a candidate for the forthcoming election for the President of India," Congress president Sonia Gandhi announced after the meeting.

But the candidature of Kumar, who hails from Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar's home state of Bihar, appeared to put the JD(U) veteran in a spot after he broke ranks from the opposition and backed the candidature of Kovind, a dalit leader from neighbouring Uttar Pradesh. Kovind was the Governor of Bihar before being nominated as the BJP nominee.

Asked to comment on the JD-U stand, Gandhi said, "We do hope that other opposition parties join us." "We are also proud that she is the second dalit candidate for the post of President."

Asked whether she was upset with Nitish Kumar for supporting the NDA nominee, she said, "I am not upset with anybody. I appeal to every political party to support." After the meeting, RJD chief and JD(U) ally Lalu Prasad said he will meet Nitish Kumar and will appeal to him again to rethink on his party's decision of supporting the NDA nominee, which he termed as a "historic blunder".

He, however, said there was no threat to the Bihar government, where the JD(U), the RJD and Congress are in an alliance. But Prasad's hopes of any u-turn by Nitish Kumar were quickly dashed with the JD(U) rejecting his request to reconsider its support to Kovind, saying its stand is based on merit and it will stick with Kovind. "Our decision to support Kovind remains unchanged. It was a decision taken on merit after due application of mind and full consultation within the party... We will stick with his choice," JD(U) spokesperson Pavan Kumar Varma said.

Shortly after Kumar's candidature was announced, BSP supremo Mayawati extended her party's support to the Congress leader, saying she was "more capable and popular" than Kovind.

"The Opposition's nominee for President's post Meira Kumar is more capable and popular than the NDA candidate. "The BSP will support Meira Kumar in the presidential election," she said.

Mayawati had said on Monday that her party was positive about the NDA nominating Kovind but wished the ruling alliance had named a non-political dalit candidate for the top post.

The brief meeting of the opposition parties started with an address by Gandhi where she talked about opposition unity and putting up a joint candidate. She then handed over the proceedings to NCP's Sharad Pawar who said there are three main names that were doing the rounds and put out the names of three dalit leaders-- Meira Kumar; Sushilkumar Shinde, a former union home minister, and Bhalchandra Mungekar, a former Rajya Sabha MP from Maharashtra.

Soon leaders of various parties proposed the name of Kumar as the best possible candidate and then Gandhi capped the discussions by selecting her name.Earlier,  CPI-M general secretary Sitaram Yechury put forward the name of Prakash Ambedkar, the grandson of B R Ambedkar, but there were no takers.

He also informed that Gopalkrishna Gandhi, the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, who was earlier being considered as the opposition candidate, had himself called to say that it would be better if the opposition puts up a dalit candidate after the NDA named a dalit as its nominee.

Leaders of 17 opposition parties were present at the meeting, which included former prime minister Manmohan Singh and senior Congress leaders Ghulam Nabi Azad, Mallikarjun Kharge and Ahmed Patel, besides Sharad Pawar and Lalu Prasad.

Left leaders Sitaram Yechury and D Raja, DMK's Kanimozhi and National Conference's Omar Abdullah also attended. Though Trinamool Congress' Mamata Banerjee, Mayawati and SP's Akhilesh Yadav, who were present at the last opposition meeting held on May 26, were not present their representatives were there. While Derek O' Brien represented the Trinamool, the SP sent Ramgopal Yadav and the BSP Satish Chandra Misra. Other parties represented at the meeting included JD-S, RSP, JMM, Kerala Congress, IUML and the AIUDF of Assam.

JD-U, which has decided to back Kovind, skipped the meeting. But RLD chief Ajit Singh attended, making up for the numbers. Most of these leaders were present during the May 26 luncheon meeting hosted by Gandhi at the same venue.

"The name of Kumar has been selected unanimously by one and all. All 17 political parties have unanimously proposed the name of Meira Kumar for the presidential election," Azad said.

He said Kumar is the illustrous daughter of former deputy prime minister and tall dalit leader Jagjivan Ram. "There could not be a better candidate than her." Yechury also said that "we are appealing to everybody" to support the candidature of Kumar.

The BJP said the Congress has made Kumar a "scapegoat" by fielding her and questioned why the party did not nominate her when it was in a position to get her elected to the highest office.