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Sena on board for Kovind; oppn to field candidate, says CPI

In a further boost to NDA's presidential nominee Ram Nath Kovind, key ally Shiv Sena tonight came on board and announced its support, ending the suspense amid strains with senior partner Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP). The announcement by Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray backing the 71-year-old dalit leader came even as the Congress and other opposition parties worked on strategies to field their common candidate for the upcoming Presidential polls.

The election of the lawyer-turned politician as the 14th President in any case is a virtual certainty because of assurance of support by some non-NDA regional parties. Thackeray said the decision to support Kovind was arrived at after holding discussions with Sena leaders.

Sena, known for its unpredictability, backed the UPA nominee Pranab Mukherjee in the 2012 presidential polls against the NDA's P A Sangma. In 2007, it backed Pratibha Patil instead of NDA candidate Bhairon Singh Shekhawat.

The Sena decision significantly come a day after Thackeray stated it was not interested in backing Kovind if his candidature is aimed at garnering Dalit votes.

"After holding discussions with our party leaders, we have decided to back the NDA presidential candidate Ram Nath Kovind. After our support, I do not think it will be difficult for the BJP to get him elected," Thackeray told reporters at his residence 'Matoshree' in Mumbai.

CPI General Secretary S Sudhakar Reddy said a "secular" candidate is the need of the hour for the president's post and that opposition parties would "certainly" field a nominee.

"(BJP chief) Amit Shah had met me and requested for our support for their candidate. In turn, I suggested him two names which he said the BJP will consider," Thackeray said referring to Shah's meeting with him on Sunday.

"After the BJP announced the presidential candidate (Kovind), Shah once again called me and told me that the names which I had suggested were considered, but that they (BJP) had their reasons for not making them the BJP candidate." Sena had earlier proposed the names of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat and veteran agriculturist M S Swaminathan.
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