PATNA:Nitish Kumar, the Chief Minister of Bihar, will meet early this evening with top leaders of his party today including Sharad Yadav to decide whether they will side with the opposition or the government on who should be the next President of India. Sources indicate that Mr Kumar will support the centre, breaking ranks with an 18-member bloc of the opposition.
The government has picked Ram Nath Kovind, 71, who was Governor of Bihar till the BJP chose him as its surprise nominee for President. Chief Minister Kumar has praised Mr Kovind substantially for serving as an impartial Governor.
Mr Kovind, a Dalit, was sent to Bihar as Governor in August 2015. Though Mr Kumar was upset that he had not been consulted about the appointment, they developed a good working relationship, he said.
All that has made the opposition – of which the Bihar Chief Minister is a key component – very nervous. Parties like the Left and the Congress are keen on an election for President. The BJP and its allies, with the support of regional parties, have about 60% of the vote, but the Left has said an election is a must as a “battle of ideologies.”
Mr Kumar has made no such assertion; his party’s top leaders have said they will discuss the options.
Top opposition leaders will meet tomorrow in Delhi at a session chaired by Congress chief Sonia Gandhi. They will then announce whether they plan to put up a candidate of their own. An election, if necessary, will be held on July 17, a week before the term of President Pranab Mukherjee ends. Mr Kumar, sources said, phoned Mrs Gandhi on Monday after the BJP announced Mr Kovind’s nomination and indicated that he will back the former lawyer who has also served twice as a member of parliament.
In 2012, Mr Kumar broke with the national alliance that he was a part of to support Mr Mukherjee, who was the government’s candidate, rather than the opposition’s contender, PA Sangma.
The opposition had intended to use the election for President to demonstrate a new and growing unity, one that could challenge Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the general election in 2019. But after Mr Kovind was named, party leaders like Mayawati, who are essential for a united anti-BJP front, have indicated that it’s tough to oppose a Dalit candidate and risk alienating the politically vital community and lower castes.
In counter, the Left has suggested two Dalit options, both from the Congress- former Lok Sabha speaker Meira Kumar and former union minister Sushil Kumar Shinde. But it is for their party to act on the proposal, said D Raja of the CPI yesterday.
Mr Kumar governs Bihar in partnership with Lalu Yadav and the Congress. With his children named in corruption cases by tax officials for allegedly acquiring a vast portfolio of proxy-owned properties, Lalu is reportedly determined to not be seen on the same side as the centre and is lobbying hard for an election, said sources. The Congress, which is trying to signal its relevance despite its huge losses in a series of elections, is also keen on a contest.