ON A day when leaders of 17 Opposition parties met here to build consensus on a joint candidate for the Presidential pollssenior BJP leaders on Wednesday reached out to key Opposition leaders including NCP’s Sharad Pawar and NC’s Farooq Abdullah— two of the three names floated as possible candidates at the meeting convened by TMC leader and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. The third name on the list was former West Bengal Governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi.
Earlier, the BJP had authorised party chief JP Nadda and Defense Minister Rajnath Singh to hold consultations with other parties for building consensus on a presidential candidate ahead of the polls on July 18.
On Wednesday, Singh spoke to Pawar, Banerjee, Mallikarjun Kharge (Congress), Akhilesh Yadav (SP), Mayawati (BSP), Shibu Soren (JMM), Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik (BJD), Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy (YSR-CP), and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar whose JD(U) is part of the ruling NDA coalition.
Asked about Singh’s conversation with Kharge, Congress leader Jairam Ramesh, who was among those present at the meeting on Wednesday, said, “this is a formality that Rajnath Singh was asked to go through, seeking support without indicating anything”.
Nadda spoke to Farooq Abdullah, Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma (NPP), leaders of the All Jharkhand Students’ Union, Naga People’s Front and a few Independents.
The BJD, YSR-CP, AAP, TRS, SAD and Sikkim Democratic Front, which were also invited for the Opposition meeting, stayed away.
Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Banerjee said there was unanimity on Pawar’s name, but he was not willing to contest, leaving the field open for further consultations in the days ahead.
Pawar later tweeted: “I sincerely appreciate the leaders of Opposition parties for suggesting my name as a candidate
for the election of the President of India, at the meeting held in Delhi. However, I would like to state that I have humbly declined the proposal of my candidature. I am happy to continue my service for the well-being of the common man.”
When contacted, Gopalkrishna Gandhi said “it is too premature to comment”.
A resolution adopted at the meeting, which lasted nearly two hours, said: “In the forthcoming Presidential election which is being held in the 75th year of India’s Independence, we have decided to field a common candidate who can truly serve as the custodian of the Constitution and stop the Modi government from doing further damage to the country’s democracy and social fabric.”
I sincerely appreciate the leaders of opposition parties for suggesting my name as a candidate for the election of the President of India, at the meeting held in Delhi. However I like to state that I have humbly declined the proposal of my candidature. pic.twitter.com/j9lTFFJMUX
— Sharad Pawar (@PawarSpeaks) June 15, 2022
Terming Wednesday’s meeting “as the beginning”, Banerjee said the “Opposition stands together at a time bulldozing is going on of our democratic system and every institution is being totally missed politically.”
TMC sources said that Banerjee, in her speech, also condemned the ED questioning of Rahul Gandhi, saying “he was being harassed just like Abhishek Banerjee while corrupt BJP leaders are treated as holy cows”.
The Congress, which was uncomfortable with the TMC’s apparent attempt to lead the Opposition bloc on the issue, sent Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge and its Rajya Sabha MPs Jairam Ramesh and Randeep Surjewala for the meeting.
Kharge said the Congress had no “particular candidate” in mind but would “sit together” with other parties to “arrive at a candidate.” He said the Congress would play a constructive role in ensuring that the parties arrive at a consensus candidate in the next few days. “Let us be proactive and not be reactive,” he said.
He said the candidate should be “someone committed to upholding the Constitution of India, its values, principles and provisions in letter and spirit, someone committed to guaranteeing that all institutions of our democracy function without fear or favour, someone committed to protecting the rights of all our citizens and preserving the secular fabric of our diverse society, someone committed to speaking out boldly against the forces of prejudice, hatred, bigotry and polarisation and someone committed to being a powerful force for furthering social justice and empowerment.”
“I am aware that many of the parties around this table compete with each other in assembly elections. But that has not prevented this meeting from taking place. Each one of us has taken a larger national view and come here for a bigger cause. Let this spirit continue. We must remain united and disciplined and not score political points against each other. The unity we demonstrate now will have implications going well beyond the Presidential polls,” Kharge said.
The Left parties were represented by CPI’s Binoy Viswam, CPI(M)’s Elamaram Kareem, RSP’s NK Premachandran and CPI(ML)’s Dipankar Bhattacharya. Among the others present at the meeting were former Prime Minister and JD(S) leader HD Deve Gowda and his son HD Kumarasamy, SP chief Akhilesh Yadav, RLD leader Jayant Chaudhary, PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti, IUML’s ET Mohd Basheer, JMM’s Vijay Hansdak, DMK’s TR Baalu, Shiv Sena MP Priyanka Chaturvedi and MLC Subhash Desai, and RJD’s Rajya Sabha member Manoj Jha.
The Opposition leaders are set to hold another meeting on the issue next week, possibly in Delhi or Mumbai. “A decision has been taken to reach out to parties like the BJD, YSR-CP, TRS and the AAP to broaden the Opposition’s support base before the next meeting, possibly on June 21. Pawar will decide the time and venue,” said a source present at the meeting.
The NDA already has over 48 per cent of the vote share in the electoral college for choosing the new President.
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With Pawar declining to contest, the names of National Conference president Farooq Abdullah and former West Bengal Governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi also surfaced as possible alternatives.