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Presidential poll: JD(U) formally backs BJP nominee Ram Nath Kovind

With Nitish Kumar’s support, the road to the Rashtrapati Bhavan has become much less challenging for NDA’s presidential nominee Ram Nath Kovind.

india Updated: Jun 27, 2017 12:37 IST
Anirban Guha Roy
Anirban Guha Roy
Hindustan Times, Patna
Presidential election,Ram Nath Kovind,JD-U
Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar greets Bihar governor and NDA presidential nominee Ram Nath Kovind at governor's house in Patna on Monday. (HT Photo)

Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar on Wednesday broke ranks with the opposition to support the NDA’s presidential nominee Ram Nath Kovind, virtually paving the way for the BJP to sail through in the presidential polls.

National spokesperson of the JD(U) K C Tyagi made a formal announcement in the evening about the JD(U)’s decision support Kovind.

“We had discussions with party MLAs and it was decided to support Kovind. The MLAs were of the opinion that Kovind is a good man and had a non-controversial stint as Governor of Bihar,” he said.

Tyagi also said his party would continue to work for opposition unity even though he refused to comment on whether the opposition parties had suffered a big jolt due to JD(U)’s decision to support the NDA nominee. “The party’s decision to support NDA nominee should be seen in isolation. We will continue to work for opposition unity in coming days,” he said.

Earlier in the day, the party’s MLA from Sonebarsa in Saharsa district Ratnesh Sada told reporters that “Nitish Kumar had expressed his intent to support Kovind as he is a good man with Bihar connection and has proved to be non-controversial during his stint at Raj Bhawan till recently’.

Several non-allies of the BJP like BJD, TDP and factions of AIIDMK have also backed Kovind’s candidature which has tilted the scales in the BJP’s favour.

With 71 MLA and two MPs, the JD(U) has substantial vote in terms of first preference votes on which a president is elected.

This is the second time when JD(U) has thrown a surprise in presidential polls by going against its allies. In 2012, it had supported Congress led UPA’s presidential candidate Pranab Mukherjee defying the then coalition partner BJP’s pick P A Sangma for the post of ceremonial head of the country.

This time, JD(U)’s decision to go with BJP-led NDA’s pick for president has come as a setback to the Congress and Left parties which are keen to put up a strong fight in the presidential contest due to ideological differences with the BJP.

Former Lok Sabha speaker Meira Kumar is considered as one of the top candidates of the opposition for president’s post although a final decision is likely to made on Thursday when Congress chief Sonia Gandhi along with other opposition parties meet in New Delhi.

Tyagi said the JD(U) would not be attending the meeting.

JD(U)’s senior partner in grand alliance, RJD adopted a guarded stance on Nitish Kumar’s decision to support Kovind stating that it would not have any impact on the health of the grand alliance government in Bihar. The RJD said there was past precedence of parties voting independently in presidential polls.

“Even Shiv Sena being an ally of BJP had supported UPA candidate Pratibha Devi Singh Patil in 2007 presidential polls,” RJD’s national spokesperson Manoj Jha said.

But a senior RJD MLA Bhai Virendra said the JD(U)’s decision to support NDA’s presidential nominee was ‘unfortunate’.

The JD(U) stand to side with NDA in the presidential poll has once again brought to fore fissures within the grand alliance and a lack of unity in the opposition ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

In the past few months, Nitish kumar has raised eyebrows and evoked strong reaction from allies including RJD for having supported Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his demonetisation drive, surgical strike and also attending Modi’s lunch with Mauritius Prime Minister Anerood Jugnauth and skipping the lunch hosted by Sonia Gandhi to discuss an opposition unity for presidential polls.

The political element of the Kumar’s decision to support Kovind cannot be ignored.

Sources said the JD(U)’s support to Kovind was an astute move by the JD(U) strongman to consolidate his dalit and maha-dalit vote base in Bihar given the fact the 71-year-old NDA pick for president hails from scheduled caste in Uttar Pradesh. Kovind belongs to the Koli caste, one of weakest sections among scheduled caste similar to caste groups defined in maha-Dalit community in Bihar.

“Kovind has an impeccable track record as an administrator and kept a rather neutral stand as Governor instead of making Raj Bhawan a hub of BJP leaders as like previous picks of BJP like Ram Naik and Kesri Nath Tripathi. Kovind also has a Bihar connection and belongs to the maha-Dalit community. So, we thought it prudent to support him,” said a senior JD(U) MP, seeking anonymity.

Kumar’s decision to support Kovind was discussed at the party’s core committee meeting attended by 50-60 MLAs, MPs and senior leaders including K C Tyagi at the CM’s official bungalow.

Meanwhile, reports said JD(U) veteran Sharad Yadav who was seen till recently as a probable opposition candidate, went straight to state guest house instead of meeting chief minister Nitish Kumar at his residence soon after arriving from New Delhi. It set off speculations that Yadav was personally not happy with JD(U)’s decision to support Kovind.

First Published: Jun 21, 2017 14:32 IST