The numbers have increased apparently in favour of the NDA’s prick for President Ram Nath Kovind on Tuesday when its sulking constituent Shiv Sena declared its support along with PDP, even as a truncated opposition is bracing for an “ideological” contest.
“We are supporting Ram Nathji's candidature and our best wishes are with him,” Sena President Uddhav Thackeray said after a 90-minute meeting with his party leaders at his Bandra home in Mumbai.
The Sena, which shares power at the Centre and in Maharashtra, has been in a love-hate relationship with the BJP. On Monday, Thackeray was critical of Kovind’s choice, describing it as caste appeasement. The Sena didn't vote with the NDA in the last two Presidential polls.
The BJP’s Jammu and Kashmir ally PDP extended its support to Kovind. The decision, according to PDP leaders, was taken after Chief Minister Mehabooba Mufti held consultations with party leaders.
The NDA, including Sena and the PDP commands the support of 48.93 percent in the electoral college made up of MPs and MLAs.
With the backing of parties outside the alliance like TRS (2 percent), AIADMK (5.39 percent), YSR Congress (1.53 percent) and BJD (2.99 percent), the NDA's support would cross the half way mark comfortably to reach nearly 61 percent in the 17 July battle.
It remains to be seen how the JD-U, BSP and Samajwadi Party, with a total vote value of over 5 percent, vote. Also on Tuesday, Samajwadi Party founder Mulayam Singh Yadav described Kovind as “a wonderful choice”.
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.
Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad on Tuesday flew to Patna to consult Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar of the JD-U, which reportedly is said to be not averse to backing Kovind. Azad's meeting comes ahead of a JD-U meeting on Wednesday on the Presidential election.
Kovind was till Monday the Bihar Governor and shared a warm relationship with Nitish Kumar. The Bihar Chief Minister is known to take a line different from other political parties as was reflected on the demonetisation decision.
Azad would also meet RJD Chief Lalu Prasad, who leans towards the Congress.
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.
Congress sources feel Shinde could be a better candidate due to his record in public life.
However, it is also reported that the Congress changed its stance on fielding a Dalit candidate for the post of President of India and is now mulling over the idea of a “people’s President”. The top names under consideration is of M.S. Swaminathan, the architect of the green revolution, and the other is that of nuclear scientist Anil Kakodkar.
Menawhile, with leaders from two principal opposition parties, BSP and SP giving their consent to attend the dinner hosted by chief minister Yogi Adityanath in honour of Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday evening, the possibility of their support has got stronger.
The Left parties are keen on the opposition putting up a candidate because they see the Presidential election as an “ideological battle” and the NDA candidate as an RSS-backed man.
“For the Left, the President's election has became a battle of ideologies and a battle for safeguarding the Constitution and secular democracy. This is how we look at it,” CPI National Secretary D. Raja said. A final call on the anti-Kovind candidate will be taken at a meeting of the opposition front on 22 June, Raja said.
The Left parties, which were earlier garnering support for former West Bengal Governor Gopal Krishna Gandhi, are slated to meet on the morning of 22 June. Among the candidates the Left is looking at is Prakash Ambedkar, the grandson of the iconic B.R. Ambedkar.
But with the TRS, AIADMK and BJD swinging Kovind's way and the BSP speaking in two voices, the opposition's strength certainly looks depleted.
Kovind hails from Kanpur Dehat in Uttar Pradesh. The sources said the BJP's decision to nominate the 71- year-old without consulting the Opposition has not “surprised” them. They, however, said the Opposition should have declared their consensus candidate before the BJP announced the NDA nominee on Monday.
Asked if there was a division among the opposition arties, particularly after Mayawati said BSP was “positive” about Kovind's nomination, the Opposition sources said, the unity is not hurt. “It is very much there.”