VENKATESH KESARI | 23 JUNE, 2017
NEW DELHI: The decision to contest the Presidential elections might not bring the Opposition candidate Meira Kumar into Rashtrapati Bhawan, but it has sent out important signals of unity as a possible precursor to the next general elections.
The Opposition that was rallying around the candidature of former West Bengal Governor Gopal Gandhi had to change track after the BJP, almost triumphantly, announced Ram Nath Kovind as its presidential candidate. It became clear that the Opposition candidate too had to be a Dalit to keep the politics from veering into unintended areas. And that given the current environment, to give the presidential polls an ideological dimension it would be necessary for the Opposition candidate to be from the same caste. More so as Bahujan Samaj party’s Mayawati had made it clear that she would be compelled to support Kovind if the Opposition failed to come up with a Dalit consensus candidate.
Former Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar more than satisfied the bill, as she is from Bihar, she is the daughter of late Congress leader and Minister Jagjivan Ram, has had a good innings as the Lok Sabha Speaker and is a woman thereby with the added gender dimension.
The regional parties fretting at the bit came around to support Kumar’s candidature. And in the process the first shape and form of opposition unity that all the participants would like to stretch into the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, was apparent. It brought in Rashtriya Lok Dal Ajit Singh into the conglomeration but more importantly warring parties in West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh agreed to sit on the same table.
The Left Front and Trinamool Congress, with a bitter and violent past, sank their West Bengal differences to support Kumar. And in Uttar Pradesh Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav joined hands at least on this one issue. Both unthinkable three years ago.
It was also made clear that the son and not the father is in command of the Samajwadi party, Mulayam Singh who made anti-Opposition noises was quietly sidelined by his son who ensured that the party remains on the anti-BJP side of the fence. Akhilesh Yadav has also in his recent reshuffle marginalised the handful of leaders who remain loyal to his father.
More pertinent, the selection of Meira Kumar has brought Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and the Janata Dal(U) under pressure. Nitish Kumar who had virtually left the Opposition in the lurch, had justified his support for Kovind by saying that he had to support the Bihar Governor who had been supportive of his government through out his tenure. Apart from the fact that he is a Dalit of course.
RJD leader Lalu Yadav, after the meeting selecting Meira Kumar, told some reporters that he would return to Patna and try to persuade the chief minister to change his mind. “For me it is an ideological fight” he said expressing the hope that his ally in Bihar government, namely the Janata Dal(U) would now support the Opposition and Meira Kumar.
An indication that JD(U) is under pressure was evident when no representative of the party was present for the filing of nominations by the NDA’s Presidential candidate Kovind.
The Opposition is clear that victory will not be possible without extensive cross voting by parties like the AIADMK, and possible support of the Biju Janata Dal though no one thinks this is likely. However, the intention as the sources said, “is to ensure an ideological campaign, between those who stand for the Constitution and those who do not.”
This cooperation and unity is expected to be even more evident during the monsoon session of Parliament with now 17 political parties together.