All eyes on Shiv Sena meeting over Kovind
All eyes are on the Shiv Sena as it takes a call here on Tuesday evening on whether or not to support its ally and BJP's Presidential nominee Ram Nath Kovind.
Sena President Uddhav Thackeray has convened a meeting of senior party leaders including ministers, legislators and MPs to discuss Kovind's candidature.
However, there are indications that the Sena may not announce its decision immediately and may adopt a wait-and-watch policy till Thursday when the opposition parties finalise their candidate.
The Sena meeting comes a day after Thackeray accused the BJP of playing Dalit vote-bank politics and of fielding Kovind merely to capture Dalit votes.
"If they have declared Kovind's name for getting Dalit votes, then we are not interested. The Shiv Sena has always kept away from such vote-bank politics," Thackeray said on Monday night at a rally to mark the party's 51st foundation day celebrations.
He added that if the next President proves to be beneficial for all the people of the country and not just Dalits, "then make anybody. We will openly support."
For the Sena, a Catch-22 situation has arisen with a Dalit candidate in the fray and speculation mounting that the Congress may want to field either former Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar and or former Maharashtra Chief Minister Sushilkumar Shinde - both Dalits.
If Meira Kumar is nominated, it would be difficult for the Sena not to back Kovind. But if Shinde is nominated, the Sena is most likely to support him on the ground that he is a "son of the soil".
The Shiv Sena had strayed from the NDA line and supported the UPA candidates in 2007 when Pratibha Patil won the election and in 2012 when incumbent Pranab Mukherjee was elected.