POLITICS

Why The Opposition Is Now Pushing For Meira Kumar As Presidential Candidate

But does she stand a chance to win?

22/06/2017 11:46 AM IST | Updated 22/06/2017 11:46 AM IST
B Mathur / Reuters

Former Lok Sabha speaker Meira Kumar's Wednesday meeting with Congress President Sonia Gandhi has triggered speculation that Kumar may the the front-runner for the Opposition's candidate in the upcoming presidential polls.

Other names have been doing the rounds too -- Gopalkrishna Gandhi, Sushil Kumar Shinde -- but now that the ruling party has announced Ram Nath Kovind as their choice, it is likely that the Opposition is going to put their weight behind Kumar.

The decision on the Opposition candidate is likely to be announced on Thursday after Sonia Gandhi meets representatives of other parties.

But, at the moment, Kumar does seem to be most probable name.

A Dalit and a woman

The Opposition is keen on staying on in the race for President, with CPM's Sitaram Yechury saying, "The question is of a political battle -- whether the basics of our Constitution would be protected or RSS would convert the country into a Hindu Rashtra (nation)."

With Kovind being made the NDA's candidate, the Opposition was also hard-pressed to find a Dalit face, and Meira Kumar makes the cut.

Add to that, she was the first woman speaker of the Lok Sabha and a five-time Lok Sabha MP.

The Indian Express reported that West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who had earlier backed Gopalkrishna Gandhi, has also agreed to support Kumar's candidature.

Meanwhile reports say Mayawati also had a role to play in these choices, since she refused to support any candidate except for someone who is Dalit.

Akhilesh Yadav, the Business Standard reported, has also promised to support contenders named by the Congress.

If Kumar becomes President, she would the second woman, and the second Dalit, to hold the position.

Cracks within the Opposition

The Times of India reported that Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad was in Patna on Tuesday to get JD(U) chief and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar's support for the Opposition's candidate.

Significantly, it was Nitish Kumar who was one of the first to back NDA's Kovind when his name was announced, even though he was one of the first opposition leaders to initiate the search for an united opposition candidate as well.

Nitish Kumar's decision is perhaps keeping in mind caste equations in his state of Bihar.

As pointed out by The Indian Express, it may have been difficult for the JD(U) to not support Kovind, who belongs to the non-Jatav Dalit community, especially since the state's other Mahadalits identify with the community.

But will the fielding of Meira Kumar change that equation? For she, too, is from a Dalit community, born in Arah, Bihar.

Apart from Nitish Kumar, the BJD too backed Kovind, claiming the President of India was above party politics. "The office of the President of India is above political consideration and Biju Janata Dal wants to keep it above the politics," BJD president Naveen Patnaik said.

However, CPI's D Raja claims that two parties supporting the NDA candidate made no difference. He told IANS, "It is one party. We are 17 parties who came together on the issue. (Bihar Chief Minister) Nitish Kumar has taken such a position, it is for him. It does not mean all others follow Nitish Kumar."

A chance to win?

As the Opposition has scrambled for a Dalit face, it looks like the odds are stacked against them. Meira Kumar being a woman and a Dalit seems to be the perfect candidate for them, but the NDA has the numbers in its favour.

As pointed out by the Hindustan Times, it will be quite a task for the Opposition to pull this off, since it is 1.5 lakh votes short, while the NDA candidate needs only 20,000 votes.

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