Presidential Election: Won’t contest elections, says NCP chief Sharad Pawar, foils plans of opposition parties

New Delhi: Amid moves to forge consensus for an opposition-backed candidate in the presidential polls, NCP chief Sharad Pawar quietly nipped in the bud a proposal to prop him up as a contender. “I am not in the race, I will not be opposition candidate for the President’s post,’’ the 81-year-old ex-defence minister and CM told a gathering of NCP cabinet members on Monday.

Pawar’s statement came a day after the Maharashtra Congress expressed support for his candidature. AAP’s Sanjay Singh had also called on him on Sunday. An NCP leader said Pawar will enable a dialogue among opposition parties to ensure unity on the issue. An NCP source said Congress’s Ghulam Nabi Azad is a viable choice.

“The general feeling was that the opposition will put up a consensus candidate despite the lack of adequate numbers…BJP alone has 300 members in the Lok Sabha, which is a huge number,’’ he said. Its strength in state legislatures adds to its clout. However, the NDA is somewhat shot of the halfway mark and is expected to bank on support from the Jagan Reddy-led YSR Congress and BJD led by Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik.

An NCP leader said the YSR Congress and BJD have between them 7-8% of the votes, but they are expected to be either neutral or vote for the NDA nominee. The NDA has the option to renominate Ram Nath Kovind, field Venkaiah Nadu or opt for a surprise pick.

Pawar and Praful Patel will be attending a meeting convened by West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee in Delhi on June 15 to rally the opposition for the presidential polls. “If there is need, Pawar will strengthen the efforts of Banerjee in putting up a powerful candidate against the BJP nominee.

He would like to coordinate with major opposition parties so that it will not be smooth sailing for the BJP,” he said. According to an NCP source, senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad is a viable choice as the opposition candidate. “There was no discussion in the meeting, but we will not be surprised if he emerges as a contender,’’ he said.

The meeting held at Pawar’s residence in Mumbai was attended by newly elected Rajya Sabha member Praful Patel, Pawar’s daughter Supriya Sule, deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar, state NCP president Jayant Patil, home minister Dilip Walse Patil and MP Sunil Tatkare. In the brief meeting, Pawar reviewed the current political situation following the defeat of Shiv Sena nominee Sanjay Pawar and preparations for the June 20 legislative council elections.

State Congress president Nana Patole had on Sunday said Congress will support the candidature of Sharad Pawar. “We will be happy to support the candidature of Sharad Pawar if he is contesting the presidential candidate,’’ Patole said.