Presidential election: Opposition meeting, Center calls up key leaders
New Delhi: The race to elect the next president intensified on Wednesday as several opposition parties gathered at a meeting in Delhi, and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) reached out to top political leaders in an effort to build a consensus for the July 18 election.
Seventeen opposition parties convened a meeting called by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and said they would again select a consensus candidate next week after Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Sharad Pawar refused to contest. . Six opposition parties skipped the event, where Banerjee also proposed the names of possible candidates for former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah and former West Bengal governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi.
Pawar tweeted, “I sincerely appreciate the leaders of opposition parties for suggesting my name as a candidate..
On the other side of the aisle, Union Defense Minister Rajnath Singh and BJP chief JP Nadda called up leaders of at least 12 parties to build a consensus. It included ally Nitish Kumar as well as Banerjee, Pawar, Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik and Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge among others. The BJP is yet to name its candidate for the election.
The absence of six opposition parties strengthens the chances of the NDA, which is set to win the election, while the opposition has a slim chance of victory in the polls, the results for which will be declared on July 21.
The opposition’s first attempt to nominate a common candidate came as a setback with the Aam Aadmi Party, Telangana Rashtra Samithi, BJD, YSR Congress, Akali Dal and Sikkim Democratic Front not attending the meeting at the Constitution Club in Delhi. Some of them said they did not want to share a stage with the Congress, others claimed that they were not invited.
The meeting went from its core issue – finding a candidate – to the larger goal of opposition unity. Banerjee slammed the Enforcement Directorate (ED) for their “inspired grilling” of other opposition leaders like Rahul Gandhi and Trinamool Congress’ Abhishek Banerjee “at the behest of Narendra Modi”; Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) chief Mehbooba Mufti described how her party and the National Conference were rivals, but now “fought together”.
Another meeting is likely to be held on June 20 or 21.
Leader of Opposition, Congress’s Mallikarjun Kharge said, “We should remain united and disciplined and not score political points against each other. The unity we are showing now will have its effect even after the presidential election. Communist Party of India leader Binoy Viswam commented, “This is a positive initiative in the right direction. This is the prelude to the big battle of 2024.”
On the BJP side, Singh spoke to Banerjee, Bahujan Samaj Party supremo Mayawati, Odisha CM Patnaik, Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav, Kharge, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha founder Shibu Soren and Pawar, a person apprised of the developments said. Singh also spoke to Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, whose Janata Dal (United) is an ally of the BJP.
Nadda spoke to Meghalaya Chief Minister and National People’s Party chief Conrad Sangma, National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah and All Jharkhand Students’ Union, Naga People’s Front and some independents, another person privy to the details said.
In the opposition meeting, Pawar received support from all parties, but said he wanted to be associated with the people and had no ambition to fight for the country’s top post.
Banerjee, who played a key role in persuading Pawar, later said, “If Sharad Pawar agrees, it is fine.” But he said he was not interested. If he agrees then everyone will support him. Otherwise the name should come from political parties. They will take advice from Sharad ji and others. Today is the beginning. But I think it was good that after so many months the opposition parties sat together.”
According to two leaders aware of the developments, Banerjee also proposed Gopal Krishna Gandhi and Farooq Abdullah as candidates, but there was no further discussion. Even National Conference leader Omar Abdullah, Farooq’s son suggested, “The names may be considered later. At this stage, let’s discuss more,” the two leaders said.
Gopalkrishna Gandhi told HT, “I was asked if I would consider contesting if there was a consensus on my name and I said I needed time to think about it.” He was the opposition candidate for the election of Vice President in 2017. He fought against Venkaiah Naidu and lost.