After Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, the Left’s Sitaram Yechury has met Congress president Sonia Gandhi to discuss jointly fielding an opposition candidate against the nominee of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance in the election for President in July. Lalu Yadav of the RJD has said he too will meet Sonia Gandhi, who has deliberately been keeping a low profile.
“The President’s post is very critical, and we require a candidate who is committed to the Indian constitution to secure democratic values. It is a search to find a common candidate,” said Mr Yechury, who confirmed that Nitish Kumar has met him too. The Left has also been in touch with other leaders like Sharad Pawar of the Nationalist Congress Party and Lalu Yadav.
At his meeting, Mr Kumar asked Mrs Gandhi to the lead the initiative. “Sonia Gandhi being the leader of the largest opposition party should take the lead,” said KC Tyagi of Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United).
There has been talk of the opposition fielding President Pranab Mukherjee for a second term if he agrees to contest, but sources in the Rashtrapati Bhawan have indicated that the President would only be agreeable if Prime Minister Narendra Modi agrees to renominate him. Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar’s name has also come up.
The heightened activity in the opposition ranks comes as the BJP continues a winning run in assembly elections, including a massive victory last month in crucial Uttar Pradesh, and there is talk of a collective effort to take the ruling party on in the national election of 2019, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi will seek a second term. The Presidential election could test the feasibility of such an alliance.
Lalu Yadav talked about a “mahagathbandan” or Grand Alliance today saying, “We have always wanted the Congress, Samajwadi Party, Mamtaji to unite to fight against communal forces. They should come onto one platform.” The Bihar politician pointed out that, “we win when we’re together, lose when not.”
He speaks from the experience of Bihar, where Nitish Kumar and Lalu Yadav buried fundamental political differences and joined hands along with the Congress in what they called the Grand Alliance to trounce the BJP. Mr Kumar, who heads the Janata Dal United or JDU, is now said to be scouting for allies for such an alliance at the national level to defeat his former ally.
“Instead of reacting to Narendra Modi, we should be setting our own agenda,” Nitish Kumar was quoted as telling Mrs Gandhi when he met her on Thursday at her 10 Janpath home in Delhi. His Janata Dal United said the meeting was a “good step, secular front should unite.”
Nitish Kumar had prescribed a grand alliance for Uttar Pradesh too, but in the end only the Samajwadi Party and the Congress partnered for the assembly elections and were handed a humiliating defeat by the BJP.
In the electoral college that votes for the President the BJP’s alliance has nearly 48 per cent votes and it can cross the half-way mark with the support of friendly parties like the TRS and AIADMK. By fielding a candidate anyway the opposition will make a point.