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‘Bihar Ki Beti’ Meira Might Put Nitish in Embarrassing Situation

Will the Opposition fielding a Dalit female candidate force Nitish Kumar to reverse his decision?

Updated
Opinion
4 min read
It’s Dalit versus Dalit in the race to Rashtrapati Bhavan as the Congress-led Opposition parties chose former Lok Sabha speaker Meira Kumar as their nominee. (Photo: <b>The Quint</b>)

BJP candidate 71-year-old Ramnath Kovind is set to win the presidential election on 17 July, considered a lucky day for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, it being his birth number. The strategy of Modi and Amit Shah – propping up a Dalit candidate for the high constitutional post to isolate the Congress, to divide the Opposition and torpedo their proposed “Grand Alliance” ahead of 2019 Lok Sabha polls – appears to have partly succeeded with secular parties such as JDU, BJD, AIADMK, TRS and YSR(Congress) backing the NDA candidate.

BJP Has Numbers In The Bag

With over 62 percent in the electoral college so far pledging support to Kovind – a former Rajya Sabha member and Bihar governor – the contest has almost become meaningless now.

The BJP had only 48.9 percent of votes till last week but after the announcement of Kovind’s name its support swelled to roughly 62 percent as the BJD (2.99 percent), TRS (2.00 percent), AIADMK (5.39 percent), YSR (Congress) (1.53 percent) and JDU (1.91 percent) offered to back him.

The SP, commanding 2.37 percent votes, and the BSP, with 0.86 percent, has since decided to stick with the Opposition.

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Opposition Fields Female Dalit Candidate

The Congress-led Opposition comprising 17 parties met in New Delhi on Thursday and unanimously decided to field Meira Kumar – a Dalit, an ex-diplomat, a former Lok Sabha Speaker and daughter of former deputy prime minister Jagjivan Ram – as their candidate, primarily to embarrass Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar who has pledged support to the BJP nominee, backtracking from his earlier offer to back an Opposition candidate.

Knowing fully well that the numbers are stacked against it, the Opposition insisted on a “political” contest for two reasons – to prove an ideological point and to sustain this anti-BJP nucleus until the 2019 Lok Sabha polls and if possible, enlarge it.

Also read: Presidential Elections 2017: How Does Your President Get Elected?

Congress president Sonia Gandhi helmed the meeting attended by NCP chief Sharad Pawar, RJD leader Lalu Prasad Yadav, CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury, BSP leader Satish Mishra, Trinamool Congress leader Derek O’Brien, SP leader Ramgopal Yadav, RLD chief Ajit, DMK’s Kanimozhi and several others.

Pawar proposed Kumar’s name which was supported by all others. Sources said Pawar’s first choice was former union minister Sushil Kumar Shinde who is a fellow Marathi and a Dalit, followed by Dr Balchand Mungekar, an economist, a Dalit intellectual and Rajya Sabha member. Meira Kumar was his third choice.

Shinde was ruled out as he was defeated in the vice president election in 2012. Majority favoured Meira Kumar and Pawar also acquiesced.

Meira Kumar received overwhelming support for four reasons:

  1. She is a more qualified Dalit than Kovind.
  2. She hails from Bihar and CM Nitish Kumar may draw opprobrium from public for not supporting a fellow Bihari.
  3. Nitish Kumar has been an ardent advocate of women empowerment and not backing Meira Kumar may expose his “pseudo” concern for the weaker sex.
  4. Meira Kumar provides a face saver to BSP chief Mayawati, who had earlier declared support to Kovind. Kumar’s selection allowed Mayawati to make a U-turn and back her, on the ground that she is a Dalit and a woman.

Name of Prakash Ambedkar, grandson of Dalit icon BR Ambedkar, also did the rounds earlier but he was ruled out by the Congress on the ground that he lacked “ideological stability”. He was part of the NDA during Vajpayee regime. Sources said Gopal Krishna Gandhi, former West Bengal governor and grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, was also under consideration but he himself backed out after the BJP announced a Dalit candidate. He is also understood to have suggested that Meira Kumar be pitted against Kovind.

After the meeting, Lalu Yadav revealed the political optics in a veiled manner as he said “we picked Bihar ki beti” (daughter of Bihar). Yadav said he will talk to Nitish “and ask him to reconsider his decision (to back the BJP candidate)”.  The RJD chief said “we have joined hands against fascist forces... we are fighting an ideological battle.” Lalu hinted that he will advise Nitish not to make a “historic blunder”.  But sources close to Nitish said it will be difficult for him to make yet another U-turn in such a short time.

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'After Nitish Kumar’s Betrayal, Congress and CPM Quick to Act’

Though Meira Kumar’s name received unanimous endorsement, the selection was not without some drama. Sources said Pawar, who is under tremendous pressure from the BJP to back its candidate, tried to defer the announcement of the Opposition candidate to Friday on the ground that a meeting of farmers’ representatives has been fixed with Maharashtra chief minister and he did not want to jeopardise the outcome of the meet.

However, after the betrayal of Nitish Kumar, the Congress and the CPM did not want to leave anything to chance. Senior Congress leaders Ahmed Patel and Ghulam Nabi Azad rushed to Pawar for a meeting and later Yechury joined them and the trio finally won over the wily Marathi.

Lalu’s attendance was also in doubt as he was attending a court hearing in Ranchi in the noon and managed to reach the venue at 4:40 pm by a special flight ten minutes after it began.

Yadav has called a rally of all Opposition parties in Patna on 27 August as part of a move to keep them united. Both Mayawati and former UP chief minister Akhilesh Yadav has agreed to attend the maha rally. If Nitish chooses to skip the joint show of strength, it will be a clear indication that he will switch over to the NDA.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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