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Another 'Gandhi' from Opposition

Another Gandhi from Opposition

The surname 'Gandhi' once again appears a tough lineage to counter for the NDA, despite having magic numbers with them! Naming former Bengal governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi – the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi – as its candidate for vice-president, the Opposition, who unanimously agreed, has left no option for difference. Even Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who had endorsed NDA Presidential nominee and former Bihar governor Ram Nath Kovind, didn't hesitate in approving Gandhi's name. Nitish-led JD (U) and some other opposition parties had blamed Congress for delaying its decision on the nominee for President. A retired IAS officer and diplomat, Gandhi is the grandson of 'The Father of the Nation' and C Rajagopalachari, the last governor general of India.

Incidentally, Gandhi's name was proposed by Trinamool Congress' Derek O'Brien, which was backed by the Left parties, JD (U) and Congress. Interestingly, with BJP and Trinamool Congress locking horns over the Gorkhaland demand and Basirhat communal clashes, and the CBI probing party leaders in the Narada and Saradha scams, the TMC has played an assertive role in pushing for opposition unity. The TMC's aggression is likely to show in the Parliament where it hopes to shape a united opposition, while also agitating outside the House and also on social media. Incidentally, Gopalkrishna Devdas Gandhi has always stepped out of his grandfather's shadow. The weight of the surname notwithstanding, the former bureaucrat and diplomat has sought to emerge in recent times not as the Mahatma's grandson, but as the nation's conscience keeper. It was not his family background that would have prompted the opposition parties to zero in on him as their Vice Presidential nominee, though that, too, is a potential vote-puller.

What mattered was that the septuagenarian former Ambassador and Secretary to former President KR Narayanan, is largely admired as an independent thinker. And, what proves the fact is that, in the opposition bloc supporting Gandhi are the Left parties, which were bitterly critical of him when he was the governor of West Bengal from 2004 to 2009. Gandhi had said the Nandigram attacks – when police fired at farmers in 2007 in the then Left-ruled state – filled him with 'cold horror', prompting the Left to describe the then Governor as biased. "It is not only natural but desirable that society should have as many views as its thinking members are capable of having. And, if there had been silence or zero discussion, I would have been extremely disappointed," he had replied when a reporter had asked about the Left's criticism. The retired IAS officer of the Tamil Nadu cadre, who served as India's high commissioner to South Africa, Lesotho, and Sri Lanka and as Ambassador to Norway and Iceland, has also held many academic posts.

Recently, he joined the privately-run Ashoka University on the outskirts of Delhi as guest faculty. Gandhi had almost emerged as the Opposition's Presidential candidate choice but the NDA's nomination of Ram Nath Kovind, a Dalit, had forced the joint front of the Congress-led parties to field another prominent Dalit face, Meira Kumar. Even in the Vice President's elections, the numbers may be loaded in the government's favour, but by fielding Gandhi, the opposition has attempted to put up a show of ideological unity, and Gandhi — an acerbic critic of ideological forces driving the Modi government — fits the bill. A prolific writer – he has penned several volumes on Gandhi, a play-in-verse on Dara Shikoh and a Hindi translation of Vikram Seth's 'A Suitable Boy.' Gandhi has also been a prominent columnist in newspapers. In his columns, Gandhi has never shied away from taking positions on contentious issues — from religious intolerance and cow vigilantism to free speech and even the BJP-led Centre's perceived bias towards the United States or Israel.

Nevertheless, the Congress appears to have learnt a lesson after having been out-smarted by BJP earlier when the latter named Ram Nath Kovind ­ former MP and Dalit lawyer from UP ­ as its candidate for President. Interestingly, the BJP-led NDA still retains the numerical advantage with close to 500 votes out of the 790-strong Electoral College in both the houses of Parliament. Undoubtedly, it will leave no stone unturned to search for a suitable name against Gandhi, to win this battle of prestige as well.

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