New Delhi: When BJP president Amit Shah announced the name of Bihar Governor Ram Nath Kovind as the NDA’s presidential candidate, he had said that there was a ‘by-and-large’ consensus within the coalition on the choice. He hoped that the leader’s Dalit credentials and his work for the upliftment of the weaker sections of society would initiate a similar consensus among other parties too. As soon as Kovind’s name was out, backchannel talks had begun among the opposition parties and chiefs of regional parties came out declaring who they intend to support. Prime Minister Narendra Modi also reached out to several chief ministers and leaders of regional parties to shore up support for the NDA candidate. He also spoke to Congress president Sonia Gandhi and former prime minister Manmohan Singh.
Now, arithmetically, the NDA (including the Shiv Sena) is said to have close to 5.37 lakh votes in the Electoral College and does not enjoy a majority in spite of its strength in the Lok Sabha and the recent victory in Uttar Pradesh. However, the alliance is only short of around 11,000 votes that could be easily compensated by regional parties in the south such as the TRS, YSRCP and the AIADMK. But if the Shiv Sena, which has frayed ties with the BJP and has a significant number of MPs in both Houses, intends to go the other way, the numbers game could be crucial for the BJP. Still, the NDA certainly has an upper hand at the moment and is likely to get its nominee installed in the Rashtrapati Bhawan next month.
Parties that have offered support
TDP – The Telugu Desam Party, a constituent of the NDA, has offered its full support to Kovind. “You have chosen a right candidate for the top post. An intellectual with high values belonging to the Dalit community is very apt in all respects for the president’s post,” N Chandrababu Naidu, chief of the TDP, told PM Modi. A communication from the chief minister’s office said the prime minister requested Naidu to garner the support of the Trinamool Congress for the NDA candidate.
TRS – In a major boost, the Telangana Rashtra Samithi also backed Kovind for President even though the party is not a constituent of the NDA. PM Modi, who called Telangana CM K Chandrasekhar Rao on phone, told him “as per your (the chief minister’s) suggestion, we have decided upon a Dalit candidate for the presidential post.” TRS has 82 MLAs in the Assembly, 11 Lok Sabha MPs and three Rajya Sabha MPs.
BJD – From the eastern region, a former ally – Biju Janata Dal – came out backing the NDA candidate appreciating Kovind’s work and qualifications. “The office of the President of India is above political consideration and Biju Janata Dal wants to keep it above the politics,” BJD chief Naveen Patnaik told reporters. The BJD has 20 MPs in Lok Sabha, eight in Rajya Sabha and 117 MLAs in the state assembly.
YSRCP – Another non-NDA constituent which gave the NDA candidate a thumbs-up was the YSRCP, the Andhra Pradesh-based party. Jagan Mohan Reddy, its chief, said on Twitter, “I and my party, wholeheartedly support the candidature of Sri Ram Nath Kovind Ji, Dalit leader and a fine Statesman, as Presidential nominee.” The party has 9 MPs in Lok Sabha and one in Rajya Sabha.
LJP – The Lok Janshakti Party, a constituent of the NDA, threw its support in the ring. Ram Vilas Paswan even went to the extent of saying, “Sab ko samarthan karna chahiye, jo nahi karenge toh maana jayega ki woh Dalit virodhi hain (Everyone should support. Those who do not will be considered anti-Dalit).”
Other smaller parties like the AGP, NPP and Apna Dal have also offered support.
Parties on the fence
JD(U) – The Janata Dal (United), a rival of the BJP in Bihar, has not indicated where its support lies. “In my capacity as the Bihar Chief Minister, it is a matter of happiness that our Governor has been declared as the candidate for the next President of India,” Chief Minister Nitish Kumar said in Patna after meeting Governor Kovind at the Raj Bhawan. However, he stopped short of committing support adding that talks will happen among opposition leaders.
BSP – The Bahujan Samaj Party, which supports Dalit leadership, stated it cannot have a negative approach to Kovind’s candidacy. “The BSP’s stand cannot be negative towards a Dalit nominee for the post of President. Our stand will be positive provided the Opposition does not field any Dalit for the top post,” BSP chief Mayawati said in Lucknow.
SP – The Samajwadi Party has not indicated its support or displeasure to the NDA camp’s choice. Since Kovind hails from Uttar Pradesh’s Kanpur Dehat district, the party may not want to be seen as opposing him. The party will take part in the Opposition’s meeting on June 22 in which they would decide if they want to nominate a consensus candidate against Kovind.
Shiv Sena – The Sena is probably the only NDA constituent that did not immediately let its support known. The party, that has significant strength in both Houses of Parliament, will hold a meeting today. “If the name of Kovind is being put forward with a view to garner Dalit votes, then the Sena is not interested. Sena has never indulged in the politics of hiding behind someone. We shall decide on whether or not to support the candidature of Kovind tomorrow,” Thackeray said on Monday.