NEW DELHI: Former Speaker Meira Kumar will take on BJP’s Ram Nath Kovindfor the President’s post in a “Dalit versus Dalit” contest which, while comfortably being in the saffron bag, is high on political symbolism in view of the opposition’s intent to make an ideological statement.
Seventeen parties from the “secular” camp unanimously approved the Congress‘s choice just when it was speculated that JD(U)’s decision to jump ship in favour of BJP could result in the unravelling of opposition unity. NCP, DMK, BSP, SP and JD(S), which were seen by some as wavering, raised their hands with gusto to clinch the issue.
After a short meeting, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi said, “We have 17 opposition leaders present here and all of us have decided to jointly field Meira Kumar as candidate for election to the post of President of India.” The emphasis on 17 appeared intended to convey that the strength of the opposition camp had, thanks to the last-minute addition of RLD, not changed.
In a sarcastic remark, JD(S) leader Danish Ali told the meeting that it was to the opposition’s credit that BJP had only managed to win over one party, reminding that when NDA-I proposed APJ Abdul Kalam’s name, even the Congress had bolted, leaving only the Left and HD Deve Gowda to field freedom fighter Lakshmi Sehgal.
Sonia pitched Meira as the second woman candidate for the President’s post. Leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Ghulam Nabi Azad, called her the “illustrious daughter” of former deputy PM Jagjivan Ram, in what was an emphasis on her social roots. Ram is seen by many as among the tallest Dalit leaders.
According to a participant, BSP’s approval of Meira settled the issue for all. The SP was learnt to have some reservations about opposing Kovind because his community’s good links with the party, but in the meeting, Ram Gopal Yadav and Naresh Agrawal backed Meira. TMC’s Derek O’Brien seconded Meira’s name as did the other parties.
Meira Kumar’s candidature confirmed what started with the announcement of Kovind’s name — that the presidential election has become an extension of identity politics. It was made plain by parties like BSP that they would not be able to vote against Kovind till the opposition too fielded a Dalit candidate. The need to provide a political cover to opposition players proved to be a critical factor in the search, settling in favour of Meira