Mamata says who is Kovind? Ally Sena does not commit; parties divided BJP rabbit out of Raisina hat; names Dalit Kovind for office, takes Opp by surprise Is this one more masterly political move by the Modi-Shah duo? By selecting a Dalit as the President nominee, the party is seeking to expand its traditional support base ahead of the next general election in 2019. In the midst of an upsurge in caste-related unrest, the BJP could be paying "lip service" to underprivileged groups by appointing a Dalit at the topmost office. Given the political symbolism, several in the Opposition might find it difficult to oppose Kovind’s candidature. While the Left parties are set to field their own candidate, as they consider this an ideological fight with the Sangh Parivar, many others like the Janata Dal (United) and Bahujan Samaj Party might not find it politically sagacious to oppose Kovind. Both parties have a significant Dalit support base. It would be very difficult even for the Congress to oppose his candidature.
Springing a surprise, the BJP on Monday named Bihar Governor Ram Nath Kovind, a Dalit and a BJP leader, as the ruling NDA’s candidate for the July 17 Presidential election.
“We have decided that Ram Nath Kovind will be the NDA Presidential candidate,” Bharatiya Janata Party President Amit Shah said after a nearly two-hour meeting here of the party’s Parliamentary Board attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and senior leaders.
He said the BJP and the National Democratic Alliance had been discussing the Presidential election for long.
“The BJP also discussed the issue with all political parties and several sections of the society. After this, a long list (of candidates) was prepared which was discussed during the Parliamentary Board meeting,” Shah told the media.
Kovind, 72, who emerged as the dark horse, is likely to file the nomination on June 23, he said. If elected, he will be the second Indian President after K.R. Narayanan to hail from the Dalit community.
The earlier names which were doing the rounds for Presidency included External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan.
While all NDA allies have been informed of the BJP choice, Prime Minister Modi talked to Congress President Sonia Gandhi, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and other leaders about the NDA choice, the BJP president said.
Modi also spoke with Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar (JD-U), Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik (BJD), Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrashekhar Rao (TRS) and Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu (TDP).
Senior BJP leader M. Venkaiah Naidu spoke to party veterans L.K. Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi.
“Ram Nath comes from a Dalit family and has struggled a lot. We hope he will be the unanimous candidate for the election,” Shah said.
He said Kovind had had a long innings in public life and fought for the cause of Dalits and the poor.
An advocate by profession, Kovind was made the Governor of Bihar two years ago after the NDA took power in the centre in May 2014.
He once headed the BJP’s Dalit wing. He was a member of the Rajya Sabha for 12 years and was a member of several parliamentary panels.
He had practised law in both High Court and the Supreme Court.
But the Shiv Sena kept its ally BJP on tenterhooks as it remained non-committal on whether or not it will back the candidature of Ram Nath Kovind for the Presidential election.
Sena MP Sanjay Raut told the media that BJP president Amit Shah called up Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray after announcing Kovind as its candidate for the July 17 election.
“Shah informed him (Thackeray) about the BJP choice and also sought the Shiv Sena’s support for Kovind’s candidature,” Raut said.
On his part, Thackeray maintained his earlier stance and said he would call a meeting of the Shiv Sena to discuss the issue before taking a final decision within a couple of days.
The oldest and most prominent ally of the BJP, Thackeray told Shah on Sunday that his party would take a decision only after the BJP’s Presidential nominee was named.
Raut reiterated that the Shiv Sena was keen on the candidature of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat or eminent agro-scientist M.S. Swaminathan.
However, he told the media that Thackeray “will address all your doubts” at the Shiv Sena’s 51st anniversary of founding function scheduled later Monday evening in Mumbai.
In the past, on two occasions, the Shiv Sena had deviated from the NDA line by supporting UPA candidates: in 2007 when Pratibha Patil won the election and in 2012 when incumbent Pranab Mukherjee was elected.
On the first occasion, the late Sena supremo Bal Thackeray had thrown his lot behind Patil on grounds that she was the first Maharashtrian and a woman to occupy the top constitutional post.
Patil defeated NDA candidate and Vice President B.S. Shekhawat.
In 2012, Mukherjee personally called up and later met Thackeray soliciting his support, which the Sena chief offered, going against the BJP-supported NDA candidate, the late P.A. Sangma.
This time round, the Sena stance on Kovind’s candidature would be considered crucial as it is a ruling NDA partner both at the centre and in Maharashtra.
Uddhav Thackeray later said a decision would be taken after discussions with party leaders on Tuesday.
“We will not take any decision without discussions and announce it tomorrow (Tuesday),” Thackeray declared, addressing a rally of party workers to mark the 51st foundation day of Shiv Sena on Monday.
He added that if the next President proves to be beneficial for the country, “then make anybody. We will support”.
However, he said the party would not tolerate if the candidature is intended for ensuring provision of Dalit votes, as the Shiv Sena keeps away from vote-bank politics.
Expressing surprise at the BJP’s decision to name Bihar Governor as the NDA’s presidential candidate, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee claimed she has never heard of the nominee and termed it a “not so mature” move.
“I have not heard his name ever before. I do not know him. I could recognise him only after he was mentioned as the Bihar Governor. I can say that I am surprised by the decision,” Banerjee said at Dubai en route the Netherlands to address a United Nations’ event.
“His name did not come during our discussion. We gave a consensus proposal as the President is a very important portfolio. This name is like a bolt from the blue. This is not a very mature decision,” she said.
Terming the President’s role as pivotal in protecting the nation and its Constitution, Banerjee argued that someone who is a seasoned expert in the subject should have been chosen instead.
The Trinamool Congress supremo noted: “Everyone knows that the President plays a vital role in protecting the nation and the constitution. It should have been someone like Pranab Mukherjee, Lal Krishna Advani or Sushma Swaraj who is a constitutional expert and knows our country well.
“I am not saying that the Governor of Bihar does not know the nation. I have spoken to two or three other Opposition leaders, they are also surprised. There are other big Dalit leaders in the country. Just because he was the leader of Dalit Morcha of BJP, they have made him the candidate. This is not a good practice.”
Accusing the NDA of not bringing up Kovind’s name during the previous discussions, Banerjee said that their decision is not a consensus decision.
“If someone decides to talk to us after the name is announced, we would tell them that we do not know this person. This is not a consensus decision,” she said.
Banerjee said she is would be waiting for the all-party political meeting on June 22 before taking a final call.
“This is not the final decision. I cannot say much in this matter as we have an all-political party meeting on June 22. However, there were no discussions on the name of the presidential candidate yet.
“In order to support someone, we must know the person. Candidate should be someone who will be beneficial for the country. Opposition will meet on June 22, then only we can announce our decision,” she added.
Earlier Trinamool’s chief national spokesperson Derek O’Brien said: “The name was announced at the BJP press conference. That’s how we got to know. Not even informed. How many of you logged onto Wikipedia today? I did.”
Accusing the BJP of unilaterally deciding its presidential candidate, the Left parties said there was no more scope for discussion with the ruling party and the issue would now be decided among opposition.
Referring to Union Ministers Rajnath Singh and Venkaiah Naidu reaching out to opposition parties earlier over the presidential polls, both CPI-M and CPI said they did not expect a “unilateral” decision from the BJP.
“During the meeting (with Naidu and Rajnath), they wanted a consensus but did not come up with a name. They said they will get back to us with a name later.
“Now that they have made the decision unilaterally, there is no more scope for discussion with them,” Communist Party of India-Marxist General Secretary Sitaram Yechury told the media here.
Refusing to comment on NDA nominee, Yechury said the opposition parties will decide their strategy during the June 22 meeting to be chaired by Congress President Sonia Gandhi.
Asked if the opposition parties will field a candidate against Kovind, Yechury replied: “Except Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy, never has a president been elected without a contest.”
Communist Party of India leader D. Raja said the BJP’s announcement was “non-transparent”.
“When Rajnath and Naidu called us to discuss candidates for presidential elections, they said they have no names in mind and wanted to know our suggestions.
“They told us that they will consider our suggestions but have now announced their candidate unilaterally in a non-transparent manner,” said Raja.
“We will discuss within our party and would consult other opposition parties and will arrive at a collective decision as early as possible,” he added.
The Congress said opposition parties will meet and decide their strategy regarding the Presidential polls and called BJP’s decision unilateral.
The Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Ghulam Nabi Azad, refused to go into the merits and demerits of the NDA candidate.
Azad also did not say whether or not the opposition will field a candidate for the July 17 contest.
“So far as the NDA nominee is concerned, the Congress has nothing to say on the merits or demerits. All the opposition parties had collectively decided on evolving a consensus on the Presidential candidate when leaders of 18 parties met recently,” Azad said.
He said the opposition did not expect this “unilateral” decision by the BJP to name Kovind.
“When (Home Minister) Rajnath Singh and (Information and Broadcasting Minister M.) Venkaiah Naidu met (Congress President) Sonia Gandhi, we had expected some names from them for discussion. But they gave no names. We had full hope that before announcing they would discuss some names.
“Yes, they did inform us but only after they had decided on the name.”
He said the meetings with opposition parties was a formality.
“The only thing I would like to say is that we expected that before taking the final decision on a candidate, they will come back to us and other opposition parties.
“The opposition parties were given to understand that they will be taken into confidence. It is the BJP’s sweet will and we cannot help that.”
Azad said all leaders in the opposition had agreed to attend the June 22 meeting to be chaired by Sonia Gandhi to take a final decision on the President’s election.
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar showered praise on Governor Ram Nath Kovind, saying he is “personally glad” over his candidature.
However, Nitish Kumar was non-committal on whether his Janata Dal-United (JD-U) will support Kovind.
“Kovind has discharged his duties in an unbiased manner as the Bihar Governor. He has worked as per the Constitution and upheld the dignity of the Governor’s post. His was an ideal relation with the state government,” Nitish Kumar said after meeting Kovind at Raj Bhavan here.
He said he congratulated Kovind, a Dalit leader from the Bharatiya Janata Party, on his nomination as the National Democratic Alliance candidate, and added that “I am personally glad he is the presidential candidate”.
As to whether the JD-U will support his candidature, Nitish Kumar said: “It is difficult to say at this point of time. I had talks with Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad and Congress President Sonia Gandhi on this issue. We will discuss the issue later and decide.”
Kovind is likely to leave Patna for Delhi on Monday evening to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday.
BSP chief Mayawati said that while she does not subscribe to the political lineage of Bihar Governor Ram Nath Kovind, her party’s stand on his presidential candidature will “be positive and certainly not negative”.
In a statement, the four-time Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister said Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president Amit Shah and Union Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu had telephonically informed her that Kovind will be the NDA candidate for the office of the President of India.
The Bahujan Samaj Party leader said since Kovind came from the Kori community, which though in small numbers was a part of Dalits, she would never oppose his candidature.
The Dalit leader also added that Kovind had strong linkage to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the ideological mentor of the BJP, something which she could not ever support.
She, however, hinted that if the opposition named a more popular Dalit leader, she would review her party’s stand on Kovind.
The name of former Lok Sabha speaker Meira Kumar is doing the rounds as the opposition candidate for the top post and BSP leaders say in such an eventuality their party would favour the Bihar woman politician.
Mayawati, however, rued that the government did not chose in good faith to consult opposition parties about its candidate and merely informed them about its choice.
She also mentioned that earlier the Rashtrapati Bhavan had a Dalit occupant in former President K.R. Narayanan and that it would have been better if the NDA had named any other “apolitical Dalit name” for the top constitutional job.
Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) decided to support NDA’s candidate.
Telangana’s ruling party took the decision after its president and Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao received a phone call from Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Soon after deciding the candidature of Bihar Governor Kovind, Modi telephoned Rao and requested his support for the candidature.
“As per your suggestion we have decided upon a Dalit candidate for the Presidential post,” a statement from the Chief Minister quoted the Prime Minister as saying. Modi requested Rao to support the candidate.
The TRS chief consulted the party colleagues and later conveyed his party support for the Presidential candidate to the PM.
Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik said his Biju Janata Dal (BJD) will support Kovind. His announcement came after Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke with Patnaik over telephone this evening.
“The Prime Minister spoke to me about the candidature of Ramnath Kovind as Presidential nominee. He sought the support of the BJD in this regard.
“As you all know, last time when the Presidential elections happened, BJD had proposed the name of P.A. Sangma, an eminent leader from the tribal community. Based on the request of BJD, many parties including the BJP had supported his nomination,” said Patnaik.
Against this backdrop and the fact that Kovind is an eminent lawyer belonging to the Scheduled Caste community, after discussing with the senior party leaders, BJD had decided to support his candidature, he added.
He said the Office of the President of India is above political considerations and BJD wants to keep it above politics.
Meanwhile, the BJP defended the decision not to come out with a name for the July 17 presidential election during meetings held by the three-member panel with the opposition, saying it did not want to appear “pre-determined”.
“Of course, we did not suggest any name. The reason was that if you suggest any name, it means you are not leaving any option for others,” Union Minister and Bharatiya Janata Party leader M. Venkaiah Naidu said, adding that he hoped for opposition support to Ram Nath Kovind’s candidature.
“If I take a name, practically that means (that) I am pre-determined. We went there with open mind, asked for suggestions. We met all important political parties, both allies and opposition, and asked for their views.”
“Keeping in view the best traditions of democracy, we reached out to all political parties, particularly the opposition.”
“Taking into consideration various suggestions and inputs from various parties, we came out with Kovind’s name,” Naidu said.
The Minister said that before Kovind’s name was formally announced, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had personally called up Sonia Gandhi and former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, among others, to inform them about the Bihar Governor’s candidature.
“Despite having a majority, we reached out to opposition parties. We now hope that they don’t have any reason to oppose Kovind’s candidature because of his background, his non-controversial nature and social background,” Naidu said.
Union Minister Ram Vilas Paswan called the nomination “historic” and appealed to all political parties to support his candidature.
“The Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) supports Kovind’s candidature. Kovind is a Dalit. The Prime Minister (Narendra Modi) has taken a historic decision. All parties should rise above political considerations and support Kovind,” Paswan tweeted.
Paswan is the President of LJP, a constituent of the ruling National Democratic Alliance.
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath welcomed the BJP’s decision. Adityanath said that by selecting Kovind, Modi and Amit Shah honoured the 22 crore people of Uttar Pradesh.
“This is a huge honour for the Dalit community and the people of Uttar Pradesh,” Adityanath told the media at his official residence.
“It is a matter of great pleasure for all of us that Ram Nath Kovind ji is our Presidential candidate…I on behalf of the people of the state would like to felicitate Modi ji and Amit Shah for the selection,” he said, adding Kovind is fit to be the next President
“It is a duty. Let us take it as a duty,” Bihar Governor Ram Nath Kovind said after he was named the Presidential candidate by the NDA.
Before leaving for New Delhi to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Kovind said he had a lot of good wishes for Bihar.
On his arrival in Delhi, Kovind was greeted by union ministers and BJP leaders including Thawar Chand Gehlot, J.P. Nadda, Bhupendra Yadav and Kailash Vijayvargiya.
Ram Nath Kovind expressed the hope that all political parties will back his nomination in the July 17 election.
“I appeal to all members of the electoral college who are MPs and MLAs from all political parties. I will appeal to them, I will meet them and take their blessings,” Kovind told the media on his arrival from Patna.
Asked whether Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar extended his support when he called on him, the Bihar Governor said the Janata Dal-United leader had made a courtesy call.
“As I am the Governor of Bihar, Nitishji made a courtesy call when he came to know about my nomination.”
Asked if the opposition will field a candidate against him, Kovind said: “I think I will have the support and blessings of every citizen of India.”
He thanked Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP family for reposing trust and entrusting such a big responsibility on “an ordinary citizen”.
Narendra Modi said Ram Nath Kovind will make an “exceptional” President and continue to be a strong voice for the poor and the marginalised communities.
“I am sure Kovind will make an exceptional President and continue to be a strong voice for the poor, downtrodden and marginalised,” Modi tweeted.
In another tweet, Modi said: “With his illustrious background in the legal arena, Kovind’s knowledge and understanding of the Constitution will benefit the nation.”
Modi said Kovind, a farmer’s son, comes from a humble background and had devoted his life to public service and worked for the poor and marginalised.
Kovind, 72, is likely to file his nomination on June 23. If elected, he will be the second Indian President after K.R. Narayanan to hail from the Dalit community.
With three holidays coming ahead of the June 28 deadline for filing of nominations in the presidential election, major political parties, including the ruling NDA, are expected to file the papers of their respective nominees by June 23.
The Lok Sabha Secretariat said in a release that nominations cannot be filed on June 24 and 25 because of public holidays — they being Saturday and Sunday, respectively — and also on June 26, which will be a holiday on account of Eid subject to visibility of moon.
In view of these holidays and the fact that Prime Minister Narendra Modi would be leaving on a three-nation tour of Portugal, the US and the Netherlands from June 24 to 27, National Democratic Alliance (NDA) candidate Ramnath Kovind is expected to file his nomination on June 23.
This was as much indicated by BJP President Amit Shah at a press conference where he announced Kovind’s name as NDA’s presidential nominee.
The last day for filing nomination papers is on June 28. Scrutiny is on June 29 and the last date for withdrawal is July 1.
Polling, if necessary, will be held on July 17 and vote counting will be on July 20.
The tenure of incumbent President Pranab Mukherjee ends on July 24. (IANS)