Oppn split wide open, JD-U to back Kovind
The opposition on Wednesday suffered a big jolt with JD-U deciding to back the NDA candidate Ram Nath Kovind in the President's election boosting the numbers for the ruling side while the rivals made it clear that they will put up a candidate.
The names doing the rounds as possible opposition candidates include former Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar and former Maharashtra Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde, both of the Congress and both Dalits.
Late on Wednesday, there was a strong buzz over former Speaker Meira Kumar being considered as the UPA choice to take on Kovind. Kumar's meeting with Sonia Gandhi set political circles into a tizzy.
The names of Meira Kumar and Shinde have been floated to counter the NDA so that parties like the BSP would have no problem going against the NDA Dalit candidate.
The setback for the opposition came at a meeting of JD-U legislators and MPs in which Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and several MLAs expressed their opinion that the NDA candidate and his credentials are good given that he hails from a Dalit community and has a humble background. With the possible support of JD-U, the vote share of NDA in the electoral college go up to almost 63 per cent.
"The party has decided to support Ram Nath Kovind. As the party has decided to support Kovind, there is no need for it to attend the meeting of opposition parties being held in New delhi," said JD-U spokesperson Rajiv Ranjan.
He also said his party's decision has been conveyed to Congress President Sonia Gandhi and RJD chief Lalu Prasad.
Earlier, JD-U Chief Whip Ratnesh Sada told reporters in Patna that the party has decided to support Kovind.
The JD-U decision came as a shock for the 17-party front led by Congress which is meeting in New Delhi on Thursday to decide on its strategy in the Presidential election, most probably putting up a candidate in what the Left parties called an "ideological battle".
It remains to be seen whether BSP, which has also said that it cannot oppose a Dalit candidate unless the opposition has a more popular Dalit nominee, attends the opposition meeting.
For the record, the Congress said the question whether they would be putting up a candidate against Kovind will be known only after Thursday's meeting.
However, CPI-M General Secretary Sitaram Yechury was more clear when he said there would be a "strong candidate" against Kovind.
Samajwadi Party President Akhilesh Yadav, whose father Mulayam Singh Yadav is toeing a different line, said that his party would go with the opposition led by Congress.
CPI leader D. Raja acknowledged that the JD-U move, if correct, was a setback to the opposition.