JD(U) blames Cong for its support to Kovind

Amid opposition parties upset over its decision to support NDA Presidential candidate, the JD(U) now seeks to pin the blame on Congress, claiming that it “tacitly” delayed an announcement to force its candidate on non-NDA parties.

It claimed the situation would have arisen if the Opposition had announced Gopalkrishna Gandhi’s name before BJP came up with the candidature of Ram Nath Kovind, a Dalit with whom Bihar Chief Minister had “excellent relations”.

The reasoning, however, was dismissed “just as an afterthought to justify their decision” by a senior opposition leader, who said it would have compounded troubles as parties like BSP could have switched over following the announcement of a Dalit candidate by the BJP.

To buttress its commitment to the Opposition, a senior JD(U) leader said there was an invitation from BJP to Nitish Kumar to attend the filing of nomination by Kovind. “He refused to attend as also decided not to send any representative as wished by BJP,” he said.

He said Nitish had agreed to the name of Gandhi as early as June 3 when he met CPI(M) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury in Chennai during birthday celebrations of DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi. Sources said he had also telephoned Yechury later to reiterate his support.

However, the leader said, no decision was taken by the Opposition and a situation arrived that Kumar could not have acted otherwise.

“It is Congress which has sabotaged Opposition unity by insisting on a Congress candidate. It tacitly delayed, deferred a logical end to this. There was no talk of Congress candidate but they wanted it. If Gandhi’s name was announced first, we would not have been in this situation,” the JD(U) leader said.

However, a non-JD(U) party leader said Congress chief Sonia Gandhi had put up the name of Meira Kumar as a suggestion on April 20 when she met Yechury. Sources said Sonia had referred her name to other leaders as a potential choice.

JD(U) sources said a section of senior leaders like Sharad Yadav are upset over the decision but may not rock the boat. They conceded that Nitish’s decision had put these leaders who are constantly interacting with other opposition leaders at unease.

They said they would not be surprised if a number of JD(U) MLAs and MPs belonging to Yadav and Muslim communities may vote for the Opposition candidate as there is no whip for the Presidential polls. Some of the Dalit lawmakers also could vote for Meira Kumar, also a Dalit who belongs to Bihar and the daughter of Dalit icon Jagjivan Ram.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on Jun 24, 2017)

Lalu to gain from Nitish’s support for Kovind?

RJD chief Lalu Prasad could end up gaining more in the Opposition’s Presidential nominee Meira Kumar, as it could help him in countering Bihar Chief Minister and JD(U) chief Nitish Kumar.

In Meira Kumar, the RJD president has found an opportunity to blunt the advantage Nitish felt he could garner in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections by supporting NDA choice Ram Nath Kovind, a Maha Dalit from the neighbouring Uttar Pradesh.

Sources said Lalu was very vocal and adamant in the meeting of Opposition leaders on Thursday that they should choose a candidate and batted for Meira Kumar. This was soon after NCP chief Sharad Pawar said they could delay the decision by a day.

However, Lalu’s calculation was that a candidate from Bihar, that too a Dalit, would put pressure on his ally JD(U). The JD(U) chose on Wednesday to support Kovind, a “cross border candidate”, with an aim to send a message to Dalit constituency that had alienated them after Jiten Ram Manjhi left the party over differences with Nitish Kumar.

Sources said Lalu has read the JD(U) gameplan very well and wanted to counter it. Lalu is believed to have told some opposition leaders that “a thorn should be dealt with another thorn” and Meira Kumar could expose Nitish to difficulties.

“He wants to neutralise the Dalit card Nitish could play in the future. Lalu is now very vocal. He wants a message to go to the Bihar voters that it is he who is standing by the ‘daughter of Bihar’, a Dalit, and not Nitish. He is also sending the message that Nitish is pitching for an outsider Dalit,” a senior leader said.

By supporting Kovind, JD(U) believes it could send a message to non-Jatav Dalits in Bihar. Manjhi’s exit and BJP presence had forced Nitish to go for a grand alliance in Bihar with RJD and Congress.

Lalu, who flew down for the Opposition meeting straight from Ranchi after a court hearing, has also bluntly told media that Nitish has taken a “wrong decision”.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald website on Jun 23, 2017)

PrezPolls: Pawar’s problems

Hours before the meeting on Thursday to decide on their joint Presidential candidate, NCP chief Sharad Pawar gave some jitters to the Opposition camp as he wanted a postponement of the announcement by a day.

As Pawar appeared to play hard-ball, Congress first rushed their trouble-shooters Ahmed Patel and Ghulam Nabi Azad in the morning to know his mind, address his concerns and convince him about the need for a joint candidate.

Sources said Pawar wanted either former Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde or academician and former Rajya Sabha MP Balachandra Mungekar as candidate due to their Maharashtra roots, though he was not averse to Meira Kumar’s name.

He was also against the hurry in announcing the name and said one could wait for another 24 hours and declare the name with more deliberations.

But the JD(U) experience in mind, the Congress leaders did not want a risk but Pawar remained adamant. Patel and Azad then dialled CPI(M) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury in the afternoon asking him to join the deliberations at Pawar’s residence here.

The three leaders then reasoned with Pawar on the need for speedy disposal of the agenda. Pawar told them that more than 60% of the votes have gone to the ruling side and asked what is the need to hurry.

However, the leaders said that any delay would be politically suicidal. Sources said Pawar might have wanted a delay in announcement as he did not want to jeopardise the outcome of a meeting farmers’ unions are having with BJP-ruled Maharashtra government.

One of the leaders reasoned that he should not worry about the outcome and he could easily target the government if they do not address farmers’ concerns.

The leaders told Pawar that the Presidential election is a pointer towards 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Some opposition leaders also indicated to Pawar that with Nitish Kumar’s decision, there would less competition for NCP chief to emerge as a potential face of opposition unity.

With NCP having some reservations on B R Ambedkar’s grandson Prakash Ambedkar, CPI(M) also did not press his name.

Pawar did raise the need for postponing the decision at the Opposition parties’ meeting but parties across the board suggested the need for a speedy decision. RJD’s Lalu Prasad set the tone as he expressed fear that some among them could leave to support the NDA candidate like JD(U).

This led to some lighter moments when one of the leaders asked who was on Prasad’s radar. In a lighter retort, Prasad said he knew that there are mischief makers in the room.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on Jun 23, 2017)

Bihar finances forced JD(U) to choose Kovind?

Does prohibition and subsequent revenue loss in Bihar have a role in Chief Minister and JD(U) chief Nitish Kumar’s decision to break ranks with the Opposition on Presidential polls? Seems so, if one goes by a section of opposition leaders.

According to sources, the decision to support Ram Nath Kovind was taken after conveying to leaders that it was a one-time decision and it would not have any impact on Opposition unity.

There were indications that some of the senior leaders like Sharad Yadav had reservation over breaking ranks with Opposition in the Presidential polls. They were told that JD(U) was not jeopardising Opposition unity.

In public, JD(U) leaders said that Kumar has told the party’s Core Committee that Kovind had troubled his government and that he was not a hard core RSS man.

However, leaders indicated that Nitish might have wanted to keep the Central government in good humour for finding financial assistance from the Centre.

“Bihar has lost a lot of revenue due to prohibition. It is undergoing a huge amount of loss. It is a problem. Where will the money come from? The Centre has to help,” a senior leader said.

Sources said to get more money from the Centre, Kumar might have chosen this way to keep the Centre in good humour.

When a senior Opposition leader was asked about this, he said, “this is a credible reason. Then there is big mess with GST. The entire truck traffic to north-east is passing through Bihar. They will lose octroi and so many other avenues for revenue.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on Jun 22, 2017)

JD(U) may break ranks with Opposition on Prez polls

Nitish Kumar-led JD(U) is likely break ranks with the Opposition over Presidential polls to support NDA nominee Ram Nath Kovind, a “Maha Dalit” who has not troubled the Bihar government as Governor.

If JD(U) has its compulsions, Uttar Pradesh-based parties Samajwadi Party and BSP are also in a dilemma over Kovind’s candidature as they do not want to be seen as opposing someone from the state who also belongs to the Dalit community.

Kumar had on Monday itself, soon after BJP announced Kovind’s candidature, dialled alliance partners Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and RJD chief Lalu Prasad to express his views on the NDA choice.

A formal decision on JD(U) stand would be taken on Wednesday when the party’s Core Committee meets in Patna but sources indicated that Kumar’s conversation with Gandhi and Prasad would set the tone. Kumar has also spoken to senior party leader Sharad Yadav, who was considered to be an Opposition candidate for President’s post.

“We are meeting on Wednesday. A decision would be taken on the issue then only. We are part of Opposition and continue to be part of it irrespective of the decision on Presidential polls,” a senior JD(U) leader said.

“Nothing much should be read as far as opposition unity is considered. We had supported Pranab Mukherjee in 2012 when we were in NDA,” he said.

Some of the Opposition parties are also against the move to pit a Dalit against Dalit and the idea of “contest just for the sake of contest”.

Sources said Kumar informed the alliance leaders that his party could not oppose a “Maha Dalit” and he had good equations with Kovind as Bihar Governor.

Kumar also does not consider Kovind as a “hardcore RSS man” who had not not troubled his government in the past three years or there were any misconduct” or “misuse of office” by him compared to the actions of other BJP-appointed Governors.

“There was not a single statement to embarrass the government, there was no ideological inflamation,” a senior JD(U) leader said while pointing out that former Governor Buta Singh, a Congress leader, had troubled them a lot when JD(U) was in power with BJP.

“He may be RSS but he is not like Praveen Togadia or Uma Bharti or Ashok Singhal,” he said but hastened to add that their stand on Presidential poll, if it they go the NDA way, would not affect Opposition unity.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on Jun 21, 2017)

PrezPolls: BJP puts Oppn in a fix with Kovind candidature

The Opposition is considering a host of Dalit leaders, including B R Ambedkar’s grandson Prakash Ambedkar and former Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar, as its Presidential candidate after BJP chose to field Bihar Governor Ramnath Kovind.

The candidature of Kovind, a Dalit, has also virtually binned the initial plans by the opposition to field Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson Gopalkrishna Gandhi in the fight for the top Constitutional post.

With the BJP coming up with a Dalit name, sources said, the Opposition camp had to tweak its plans. They are in consultation to prepare a short-list from Dalit and tribal communities.

Opposition leaders said the choice of Kovind is to consolidate BJP’s gains in Uttar Pradesh in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

Parties like JD(U) admitted that they are in a fix as the choice is a Dalit while considerations in Uttar Pradesh, where Kovind hails from, has put Samajwadi Party and BSP in quandary.

While Mulayam Singh Yadav is open to support an NDA candidate, his son and SP chief Akhilesh does not want to break ranks with Congress. For BSP, sources said, opposing a Dalit candidate from UP would be a problem for its chief Mayawati and opposition would have to take into consideration her views and field a Dalit candidate.

Congress is of the view that the Opposition could field Kumar, daughter of Dalit icon Jagjivan Ram and a Congress leader, while non-Congress parties appear not enthusiastic about a candidate from the Grand Old Party.

Ambedkar’s name is being proposed by a section of non-Congress parties as they believe that this could put Shiv Sena, which has reacted to BJP choice as “merely vote bank politics”, in a fix. One of the leaders also suggested Magsaysay award winner Beswada Wilson could be considered.

A section of the Opposition had earlier suggested that they should field a tribal candidate as such a nominee could attract tribal MPs, particularly from north-east, cutting across party lines.

Soon after the name was announced, Opposition leaders worked their phones to prepare a counter to the BJP move.


CPI(M) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury got in touch with senior opposition leaders, including Bihar Chief Minister and JD(U) chief Nitish, RJD chief Lalu Prasad and others.

Bihar Chief Minister and JD(U) chief Nitish Kumar, who expressed happiness over Kovind’s candidature, dialled Congress chief Sonia Gandhi. Sources said he has conveyed to her that his party would stand by the decision of Opposition meeting of June 22.

JD(U) sources said Kovind’s candidature has put them in a fix as he is a Maha-Dalit and there is nothing much to oppose him. They have conveyed the unease to some opposition leaders.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on Jun 20, 2017)

Prez Polls: Will Oppn consolidate?

The BJP’s reach out on Presidential polls that started on Friday has not cut much ice with the Opposition, which believes that the ruling side not indicating a name is a “deliberate” ploy but would help consolidate the non-NDA side.

The Opposition is entering a hectic phase of consultations in the coming days and expects to decide on a candidate by the middle of next week with sources saying their goal is to come up with a name before the government side.

CPI(M) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury, whom senior BJP ministers Rajnath Singh and M Venkaiah Naidu met here following, feels that the government’s efforts were not sincere, a view echoed in the opposition ranks.

After the meeting, Yechury minced no words in describing the meeting as a “pre-concluded PR exercise” in which the BJP wanted to show a charade of reaching out to opposition. Besides Yechury, the BJP leaders had with opposition parties Congress president Sonia Gandhi and leaders of CPI, Samajwadi Party and BSP.

“Without names, they are meeting opposition. That means it has made improbable for any opposition party to talk about support. So those opposition parties who were thinking of probably supporting a candidate whom they could vote for has no option,” a senior Opposition leader said.

The BJP’s ‘no names strategy’ may also be to force the opposition to put up a candidate as it wants to show that they won against a joint candidate, the leader said. Sources said that it could also mean that the BJP would want a political candidate, who adheres to the party ideology.

Some of the Opposition parties had earlier indicated that they would vote for an NDA candidate in case they put up a nominee who could appeal to their constituencies.

Amid rumblings in the opposition ranks, Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Yechury held a meeting on Thursday where the former made it clear that they were for a fight in the Presidential polls.

Sources said Sonia also indicated Congress was not averse to the candidature of Gopalkrishna Gandhi, who has started reaching out to parties. Gopalkrishna Gandhi has already spoken to leaders, including AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal who said his party was honoured to support him.

The Opposition parties’ prominent leaders would consult over the weekend before a meeting of 17 parties, which attended a luncheon meeting called by Sonia last month. Though AAP and Naveen Patnaik-led BJD are not part of this grouping, it is expected that they would join them in voting. AAP has already conveyed their support to Yechury on Presidential polls.

June 16, 2017

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