Congress president Sonia Gandhi chairs a meeting of the opposition leaders to discuss the strategy for the presidential election in New Delhi on Friday.(PTI File photo)
Congress president Sonia Gandhi chairs a meeting of the opposition leaders to discuss the strategy for the presidential election in New Delhi on Friday.(PTI File photo)

Presidential poll: Parochial NCP, cagey BJD, evasive JD-U. Can Oppn stay united?

The opposition sub-group failed to announce its candidate for the Presidential election amid indications that some partners may slip away.
By Saubhadra Chatterji | Hindustan Times, New Delhi
UPDATED ON JUN 27, 2017 12:38 PM IST

The opposition, which wanted to give a tough fight to the Narendra Modi government for next month’s presidential elections, is now facing a key challenge of keeping a united front.

In the first meeting of the opposition sub-group formed to find a probable name for the post on Wednesday, the parties could not agree to announce its candidate. Moreover, there were indications that some partners may slip away.

Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) has already given a hint that if the government puts a Maharashtrian candidate, it may have to think otherwise. In Wednesday’s meeting, NCP leader Praful Patel said the opposition should wait as the government wants to talk to them.

The Congress-led 17 party bloc has given up its hopes about both the factions of the AIADMK and Telangana Rashtra Samithi. It is also not very hopeful about poaching the Shiv Sena from the ruling squad, even as Sena is disgruntled and maintained its distance from the BJP on many occasions.

“We had approached the Shiv Sena. They told us that they will maintain an independent position,” said a senior opposition leader.

Naveen Patnaik’s Biju Janata Dal has so far remained non-committal. The BJD and Aam Aadmi Party have skipped both the meetings of the opposition parties. Patnaik is increasingly wary about the rise of the BJP in his state, the opposition, however, has not been able to leverage it to its benefit.

There are also question marks over Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal(United) after he skipped the opposition meeting on May 25 but joined a dinner hosted by the PM. JD(U) representative Sharad Yadav was initially reluctant to join Wednesday’s meeting on the pretext that he has a House panel meeting to attend in Guwahati. Finally, he was pursued to stay back.

Trinamool Congress representative Derek O’Brien, surprisingly, did not commit to any decisions of the 10-member opposition panel on Wednesday. He merely maintained that he has to “consult” his leader Mamata Banerjee.

There are strong speculations about Banerjee’s reaction in the Trinamool camp that if the BJP proposes foreign minister Sushma Swaraj’s name as the next president. For, Banerjee maintains an excellent equation with Swaraj even as she is opposed to Prime Minister Modi.

The notification for the July 17 polls was issued on Wednesday, beginning the nomination process for the election. The last date for filing papers is June 28.

Multiple sources told Hindustan Times on Wednesday former diplomat Gopalkrishna Gandhi could be the potential opposition candidate for the July 17 presidential election, with Left parties pushing for Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson for the country’s highest post.

The government, however, is trying to build consensus for its own candidate and two Union ministers, Rajnath Singh and M Venkaiah Naidu, are expected to meet Congress chief Sonia Gandhi on Friday, BJP sources said. They will also hold a meeting with CPI (M) leader Sitaram Yechury.

The presidential election involves a complex voting pattern involving all parliamentarians and state legislators.

The National Democratic Alliance needs around 20,000 more votes to ensure the victory of its candidate and the reach out to the opposition is seen as an exercise to test if there could be a consensus and ensure a greater margin of victory.

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