New Delhi: Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad on Tuesday downplayed the National Democratic Alliance's decision of naming Bihar Governor Ramnath Kovind for the post of President and said it's not the first time when a person belonging to the minority community has been nominated for the top post, adding the Congress made a Dalit president 15 years ago, referring to K R Narayanan.
"The Congress has always taken the initiative to improve the condition of the Dalits even before the country got Independence. We even introduced the reservation quota for the upliftment of the minorities after Independence. As far as the President of India is concerned, we made a Dalit president 15 years ago; this is not the first time," Azad told ANI.
Azad said it would have been better had the ruling party nominated someone neutral rather than a hardcore leader of Bharatiya Janata Party like Kovind.
"We were expecting the BJP to announce the name of a neutral person. Like during the regime of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, we supported A P J Abdul Kalam - not because he belonged to a minority community, but because he was neutral and didn't belong to any particular party," he said.
Further stressing on the issue, he said the political parties are not divided on the basis of religion. They have different ideologies and a neutral person would have been acceptable for all.
Azad said they would meet the Opposition parties on June 22 to discuss the Centre's decision on the Presidential nominee and to take a decision on the same.
"We don't want to comment on his personality, but will talk on merit. But this is a fact that he is a hardcore BJP leader. How can one support a hardcore BJP leader? This seems a little impossible. But still till now we have not announced any name for the Presidential candidate from our side, because we had decided this in all party meeting that decision will be taken with consensus," Azad said.
Earlier on Monday, BJP president Amit Shah announced the name of Kovind as NDA's consensus candidate for the post of Indian President.
Kovind before leaving for New Delhi yesterday met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and thanked the people of Bihar for their support.
Following the announcement, Prime Minister Modi reached out to Congress president Sonia Gandhi and former prime minister Dr. Manmohan Singh to seek the grand old party's support for Kovind.
Prime Minister Modi also spoke to Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister E. Palaniswamy over NDA's presidential candidate pick.
The Prime Minister said that Kovind will make an exceptional President and continue to be a strong voice for the poor, downtrodden and marginalised.
However, the decision did not go down well with some of the political parties with Congress alleging that the announcement was made without taking the grand old party into confidence while BJP's ally Shev Sena termed it a political move to lure vote bank.
Joining the critics of NDA's Presidential nominee, Shiv Sena said it would not extend its support if the Centre is eyeing a vote bank by nominating a Dalit face for the upcoming President polls.
"If someone is trying to make a Dalit a President with the purpose of gaining a vote bank then we are not with them, Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray said.
Meanwhile, Trinamool Congress chief and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee didn't seem happy with the Kovind's candidature.
She said that someone of the stature of President Pranab Mukherjee or even External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj or BJP veteran L.K. Advani may have been made the candidate.
The decision, however, was welcomed by some of the political leaders including Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao.
Nitish Kumar expressed his happiness that the Bihar Governor would be the NDA's candidate for the President elections. He, however, said a detailed discussion would be held on the matter within the JD-U.
Kovind belongs to the Dalit community Koli and had worked extensively in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar and also has the backing of BJP's ideological parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. A lawyer by profession, Kovind had also been BJP Scheduled Caste Morcha chief (1998-2002) and president of the All-India Koli Samaj.
The election for the next President of India is to be held on July 17 as President Pranab Mukherjee will demit the office on July 24.
The Election Commission of India issued the notification in this regard and the process of the nomination has started that will continue till June 28.