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Opposition won’t fight if NDA picks ‘acceptable’ candidate for presidential poll

LiveMint logoLiveMint 26-05-2017 Anuja

New Delhi: Opposition parties led by the Congress have expressed their willingness to support the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance’s (NDA’s) nominees for the forthcoming presidential and vice-presidential elections if “acceptable” candidates are fielded.

The ruling alliance should seek to reach consensus with key opposition parties on the candidates, they said.

At a luncheon meeting called by Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Friday, 17 opposition parties decided to form a committee to consider possible candidates to take on the government nominees in the elections. The suggestion was put forth by Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar, said a person who attended the meeting, requesting anonymity.

“Elections to the posts of president and vice-president are forthcoming. The normal practice has been that the ruling party takes the initiative to build a consensus on the names of the candidates for these important offices,” the opposition parties said in a joint statement.

“This has not happened so far. If acceptable, consensual candidates do not emerge, then we (opposition parties) shall decide to field such persons who shall steadfastly defend the constitutional values of our republic,” the statement added.

The meeting brought together arch-rivals such as Sitaram Yechury, general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist); and West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, chief of the Trinamool Congress; Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati; and Akhilesh Yadav, chief of the Samajwadi Party. Pawar, Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad and former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah were also present.

“The decision of the meeting over presidential polls is ‘Let us wait’ for the name of the candidate that may be given by the government. If it satisfies all of us we can take a look at it. The candidate should be secular and uphold the Constitution. If there is no consensus, then a committee will be formed to look into it,” Banerjee told reporters after the meeting.

A senior opposition leader who attended the meeting said on condition of anonymity that possible candidates were not discussed at the meeting.

“If the government comes up with a secular candidate with an unblemished past and without any affiliation to a political party, the opposition will consider it,” this person said.

Interestingly, the display of unity is expected to go beyond the presidential and vice-presidential elections. Senior leaders of the 17 parties have decided to use their numerical strength in Parliament to corner the government on some key policy issues.

“Opposition parties expressed their resolve to strengthen floor coordination in Parliament to unitedly oppose this government’s policies,” the joint statement said.

The decision is significant because it indicates a pan-India anti-NDA alliance coming together at least for these two elections. This is the first time in three years that such a high-profile meeting has been hosted by Gandhi and attended by top regional leaders.

The meeting took place on the day Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s NDA government completed three years in office. The opposition parties also assessed the three years of the NDA government.

“During the meeting, we discussed the failures of the three years of BJP rule in which the Dalits, weaker sections, religious minorities and farmers have faced a lot of hardships,” Mayawati told reporters.

Prasad said the NDA government had “failed in all the promises it made”.

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