Kovind gets more support but Oppn gears up for a fight

Congress, Left not inclined towards ‘hardcore BJP leader’, SP, BSP and Shiv Sena on board

NEW DELHI: The ruling NDA’s presidential candidate, Ram Nath Kovind, looked headed for a comfortable victory on Tuesday with divisions widening in the opposition camp even as it braced for a contest for the July 17 polls.

 presidential nominee Ram Nath Kovind arrives at Bihar Niwas in New Delhi on Tuesday.

Senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad indicated on Tuesday the grand old party was not inclined to support a “hardcore BJP leader” as the presidential candidate and would continue to work on building a consensus on an opposition nominee.

The Left parties including the CPI(M) and the CPI share the Congress’ stance, but more chinks surfaced in the opposition camp.

Samajwadi Party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav joined Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar and BSP supremo Mayawati in endorsing Kovind’s candidature.

“The BJP has given a good candidate. I have a very old relation with him,” the SP patriarch told ANI.

While the victory of the NDA nominee seems to be almost certain, the presidential election has become a test case for the opposition’s unity, the centrifugal idea behind efforts to field an opposition candidate. If opposition parties end up splintered, it would be a setback to the idea of non-BJP alliance referred to as mahagathbandhan, a term that gained currency after a successful experiment in the 2015 Bihar assembly elections.

Kovind, who resigned as Bihar Governor on Tuesday, is likely to file his nomination papers on June 23, before Prime Minister Narendra Modi leaves for abroad.

Kovind will later go on a countrywide tour to seek support from members of Parliament and state legislatures who form the electoral college that votes in the presidential polls. He was given NSG cover on Tuesday.

The Congress on Tuesday played down the significance of the BJP’s gambit, stating it had made a Dalit president 15 years ago. “We don’t want to comment on his personality, but will talk on merit. This is a fact that he is a hardcore BJP leader. How can one support a hardcore BJP leader? This seems a little impossible,” Azad told ANI, adding that a decision will be taken with consensus.

Opposition parties will meet on Thursday to finalise their stand but the NDA move appeared to have flummoxed many of them. Senior JD(U) leaders will also meet on Wednesday but chief minister Nitish Kumar set the tone on Monday, expressing “happiness” over Kovind’s candidature.

BSP supremo Mayawati has declared that she will support Kovind if the opposition grouping doesn’t field a Dalit candidate.

BJP ally Shiv Sena also said on Tuesday it will vote for Kovind, swelling the ruling alliance’s already staggering votes.

Other constituents of the NDA have endorsed Kovind’s candidature and while some non-NDA parties such as the YSR Congress, the TRS and a section of the AIADMK too have pledged support.

Meanwhile, a comment Kovind had made as BJP spokesperson in 2010 returned to haunt him.

“Islam and Christianity are alien to the nation,” he had said at a press conference, while demanding that the Justice Ranganath Misra commission, which had recommended inclusion of Muslim and Christian converts among Dalits, be scrapped. At least three senior BJP leaders refused to comment on it, saying they had not heard of it.

Kovind reached Delhi on Monday night and met Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah.

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