Presidential elections: Opposition is still alive and kicking
NDA's move to announce Dalit candidate Ram Nath Kovind as their candidate seems to be disintegrating the opposition, with those including Bihar CM Nitish Kumar, declaring his support for Kovind. Senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad's trip to Patna triggered speculation that the opposition is working on damage control, trying to get Kumar back on board. How does the opposition plan to revive itself?
Kumar was the one to initiate negotiations with Congress President to field a joint candidate against NDA, after which those including CPI (M) leader Sitaram Yechury, persuaded the Congress to take the lead. He declared support to Kovind, after NDA's announcement.
What context is this happening in?
India's Presidential elections are scheduled for July 17, with incumbent Pranab Mukherjee set to complete his term soon. NDA's move presenting Ram Nath Kovind, as Presidential nominee, seems to have weakened the opposition, with those including Janata Dal (U) and Biju Janata Dal declaring their support to him. Kovind also enjoys support from non-NDA parties including YSR Congress and smaller parties including Apna Dal.
Who is Ram Nath Kovind?
Kovind is a Dalit leader and the incumbent Bihar Governor. A lawyer by profession, Kovind started his political career as Personal Secretary to PM Morarji Desai in 1977 and has been twice elected to the Rajya Sabha. Kovind has also served as BJP National Spokesperson.
Opposition likely choices: Meira Kumar or Gopalkrishna Gandhi
Congress and Left, along with smaller parties are expected to put a Presidential candidate forward soon. Those including Left and Trinamool Congress had earlier zeroed in on 'clean candidate' Gopalkrishna Gandhi, Mahatma Gandhi's grandson and former West Bengal Governor. Given BJP's choice of Kovind, opposition is likely to opt for Dalit candidate Meira Kumar in a bid to swing Dalit votes in their favour.
Shiv Sena endorses Kovind, may have a tough choice ahead
Shiv Sena, NDA's unsteady ally, which has 18 MPs and 63 MLAs, in an unexpected move, declared its support to Kovind. According to sources, the decision was driven by fears of cross-voting and the futility of supporting the opposition. Opposition has been considering nominating Prakash Ambedkar, B R Ambedkar's grandson and a Maharashtrian native to make the choice difficult for Shiv Sena.
What does this mean?
NDA's move to field a Dalit candidate was a masterstroke in bringing the 18-party opposition down. Kovind is likely to attract consensus among most parties. Opposition has a winning chance with Meira Kumar, another candidate with good credentials, in which case fence-sitters including BSP and SP can swing the opposition's way. Dalit-Hindu votes are likely to be a key determinant in influencing the results.