Oppn to field candidate if BJP fails to come up with consensual nominee
Forging a common stance on the upcoming presidential polls, a united opposition that included the Congress and some arch-rivals on Friday decided to field its candidate if the NDA government fails to come up with an "acceptable consensual" nominee.
Leaders of 17 parties came together at a luncheon hosted by Congress chief Sonia Gandhi on a day when the Modi government celebrated its third anniversary on Friday but the absence of JD(U) stalwart and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar set off speculation.
Kumar is likely to be present at the lunch Prime Minister Narendra Modi is hosting here on Saturday for visiting Mauritius Premier Pravind Jugnauth. JD(U) leader Pavan Verma, however, said that nothing should be read into the chief minister's absence at today's meeting.
Incumbent Pranab Mukherjee demits office on July 25. The meeting also saw opposition leaders attack the Centre on the "grave" situation in Kashmir and Saharanpur in Uttar Pradesh and alleged that various sections of society -- Dalits, youth, women, poor and oppressed sections were facing atrocities in this regime.
Bitter rivals in Uttar Pradesh -- the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party -- and arch foes in West Bengal -- the Trinamool Congress and the Left -- were all present at the luncheon at the Parliament House Library.
Apart from West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and CPI-M's Sitaram Yechury, BSP's Mayawati and SP's Akhilesh Yadav sat under one platform and attended the lunch together with other opposition leaders - NCPs' Sharad Pawar, RJD supremo Lalu Prasad and DMK's Kanimozhi.
The JD-U was represented there by Sharad Yadav and K C Tyagi, besides RJD's Prem Chand Gupta.
Other Left leaders CPI's S Sudhakar Reddy and D Raja and CPI-M's P Karunakaran were also present, apart from SP's Naresh Agarwal and Ram Gopal Yadav and BSPs Satish Mishra. Besides representatives of smaller regional parties, Omar Abdullah of the National Conference, JMM's Hemant Soren and Sanjiv Kumar, IUML's P K Kunhalikutty, JD-S's C S Puttaraju, AIUDF's Badruddin Ajmal and RSP's N K Premchandran also attended the event.
Apart from Gandhi and vice-president Rahul Gandhi, the Congress was represented by former prime minister Manmohan Singh and leaders Ahmed Patel, A K Antony and Ghulam Nabi Azad besides Mallikarjun Kharge.
West Bengal chief minister who was one of the first leaders to arrive and leave, separately said in case a consensus candidate does not come up a small committee of opposition leaders will be formed to select a suitable presidential candidate who is "good and secular".
Banerjee told reporters after the lunch that the parties present criticised the "horrible" situation in Kashmir, where security forces were battling civilians, and in Uttar Pradesh's Saharanpur district, which has been witnessing caste clashes since April.
After the meeting, Azad and Sharad Yadav read out a joint statement stating that in view of the presidential election, the normal practice has been that the ruling party takes the initiative to build a consensus on the names of candidates for these important offices.
"This has not happened so far. If acceptable consensual candidates do not emerge, then we (opposition parties) shall decide to field such persons who shall steadfastly defend the Constitutional values of our Republic," the statement said.
Yadav said the opposition appeals to the BJP to take the lead and come up with a consensus candidate for the president and the vice president's post, as per traditions, but a consensus between the ruling and opposition sides appears remote.
"We want that someone who protects the Constitution holds this post," he said.