As the Bharatiya Janata Party’s choice for President, Ram Nath Kovind, filed his nomination on Friday, the opposition on Thursday named their candidate; Meira Kumar, the former Lok Sabha speaker and Congress veteran.
17 opposition parties including the Left, the Trinamool Congress, the Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the National Conference were present during the meeting.
— ANI (@ANI_news) June 23, 2017 On the political side, this nomination has put Bihar Chief Minister and Janata Dal-United leader Nitish Kumar in a tricky situation, as he broke away from opposition ranks and declared his support for the National Democratic Allaince’s candidate.
As the Scroll reports, a senior opposition leader said: “There is no doubt Meira Kumar has an impressive resume and she is a well recognized face but finally it was the Bihar factor which went in her favor.”
In an op-ed for NDTV, Swati Chatuvedi writes –
“Since Nitish Kumar has a huge following among Bihar's women after his prohibition move, his not supporting Meira Kumar will certainly create some trouble even in his own party, the JDU. Nitish Kumar, who is an extremely shrewd leader, is not likely to have second thoughts about his support for Kovind.”
Meira Kumar is the daughter of former deputy prime minister and iconic Dalit leader Jagjivan Ram. A lawyer and a former diplomat, she was the first woman Speaker of the Lok Sabha when she elected in 2009. She joined the Indian Foreign Service in 1973 but resigned after former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi asked her to contest the Lok Sabha by-election from Bijnor in Uttar Pradesh.She is a congress veteran, serving as its General Secretary between 1991-92 and 1996-99, and has been a member of the Congress Working Committee.
Writing for the Hindustan Times, Mammen Matthew highlights the tough spot that Nitish Kumar is in while keeping in mind the 2019 elections, writing –
“By nominating Meira Kumar on RJD chief Lalu Prasad’s insistence, the Opposition has presented a logic which Kumar cannot dismiss. Nitish’s gambit in taking the lone ranger role is driven by the near irreconcilable contradictions within the UPA and the anti-BJP phalanx, which limits the chances of him emerging as the leader to challenge the NDA in 2019.”
For the Huffington Post, Shivam Vij writes that Meira Kumar is a terrible choice made by the opposition –
“By bringing forth a Dalit name against a Dalit name, the opposition is admitting it has been stumped by the BJP in the Presidential polls too. The 'me too' approach shows how the opposition is bereft of political imagination.”
BJP spokesperson G V L Narasimha Rao, in response to the oppositions’ nomination, said: “When the Congress had the opportunity to elect a Dalit president when they were in power they did not find Meira Kumar suitable. But when the defeat of the opposition candidate is certain they have fielded her as a scapegoat.This clearly shows that it has no commitment to elect leaders from marginalized sections to high offices and had decided to field her purely done as a token exercise.”
In a piece for Firstpost, Krupa Ge states that, given the two candidates chosen, both parties need caste to survive:
“…the elephant in every Indian room, that is caste, must be addressed. Every election in India is dependent on the math around caste and this time around, the Congress has made that math irrelevant by matching BJP every step of the way, and trying to upstage them as well.The quick dubbing of this contest as one of tokenism is as much a problem as the respective political parties using the caste system that they rely on for survival, so blatantly to further their agenda.”
The piece goes on to size up the two candidates and the ideologies they may represent –
“BJP’s candidate Kovind, is not just from the oppressed community, but also believes in its agenda of oppression. Its (BJP’s) ‘Hindu Rashtra’ mission will need a President who will, apart from believing in the cause, also be seen as a point of deflection, even as Dalits and Muslims, across the country continue to oppose as well as bear the brunt of the BJP’s idea of a uniform ‘Hindu’ India.”
“Kumar has had a distinguished career, and is well-known not just in political circles, but to the nation at large. The Congress has essentially tried to overshadow the BJP’s candidate by picking someone who comes close to the other camp’s candidate. By doing this it has not created a Dalit vs Dalit contest alone (as is being projected by both parties). It is business as usual, BJP versus Congress. Hindutva vs Dynasty.”
The New Indian Express editorial states that the opposition’s pick is let down by her own side -
“Meira Kumar, former Lok Sabha Speaker with a fine record in public service, is a distinguished presidential contender in her own right. But the Opposition bumbling that has preceded the declaration of her candidature — it came too late, for one, and showed up the Opposition as too divided — has ensured that she will now be seen only as the non-BJP parties’ Dalit riposte to the NDA’s Dalit choice.”
“The presidential contest could have been an occasion for the Opposition to have its say, even though not its president. It has become only yet another moment for it to play catch-up.”
Though the Opposition parties are well aware that the numbers in the Presidential race do not favor them, they nevertheless decided to field a common candidate to make a political statement.
This symbolic fight by a united Opposition was also meant to set the stage for the formation of a secular anti-BJP alliance with an eye on the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.