BJP picks Dalit face Ram Nath Kovind as its candidate for President's post

PM speaks to Sonia, Manmohan, seeks support Cong rules out consensus on BJP's nominee, Oppn parties to meet on June 22
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Agencies
NEW DELHI
19 Jun 2017

India is set to get its second Dalit president as the BJP today picked Bihar Governor Ram Nath Kovind as the NDA nominee for the top Constitutional post.

The 71-year-old low profile Dalit leader, a two-term BJP Rajya Sabha member, is seen as an astute choice by the saffron party, which has been targeted by Opposition parties over Dalit issues, and his election is almost a certainty as the ruling bloc with the support of some regional parties enjoys a majority in the electoral college. K R Narayanan was the country's first Dalit president. BJP president Amit Shah made the announcement following over two-hour long meeting of the party's parliamentary board, which was attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and senior party leaders.

Seeking support from Opposition parties, Shah said Modi spoke to Congress President Sonia Gandhi and former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and sought their support. Top BJP leaders also spoke to various opposition parties and also got in touch with their allies. Kovind, a lawyer, two-term Rajya Sabha MP and former president of the BJP's 'Dalit Morcha', is likely to file his papers on June 23. The Prime Minister today said Kovind will make an exceptional President and continue to be a strong voice for the poor, downtrodden and marginalised. His remarks came hours after the BJP Parliamentary Board declared Bihar Governor Kovind as the NDA's choice for President. "I am sure Shri Ram Nath Kovind will make an exceptional President and continue to be a strong voice for the poor, downtrodden and marginalised," the Prime Minister tweeted. Modi said with an illustrious background in the legal arena, Kovind's knowledge and understanding of the Constitution will benefit the nation.

Modi pointed out that Kovind, a farmer's son, comes from a humble background. "He devoted his life to public service & worked for poor & marginalised," he said in another tweet. External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj today congratulated the Bihar Governor for his nomination as the NDA candidate for the Presidential poll. "Heartiest congratulations to Shri #RamNathKovind ji on his nomination as our candidate for the office of President of India," she tweeted. On Saturday, Swaraj had dismissed reports that she was a contender in the presidential poll as "rumours".

Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar today congratulated Bihar Governor Ram Nath Kovind on being nominated as the NDA's candidate for the post of president. Apart from Khattar, the state's Agriculture Minister Om Parkash Dhankar also congratulated Kovind, an official release said here. Earlier today, BJP had named Dalit leader and Bihar Governor Ram Nath Kovind as the NDA candidate for the top post. However, the Congress today spurned the BJP's appeal for consensus on its choice for president and said the opposition would take a call on contesting the election after a meeting on June 22. The BJP had taken a "unilateral decision", Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad said soon after the announcement of Bihar Governor Ram Nath Kovind as the NDA's candidate for President.

"Congress does not want to comment on this issue as we want to take a unanimous decision with all other opposition parties on the presidential elections. The final call will be taken in a meeting of all Opposition parties on June 22," Azad told newspersons here. Terming the BJP's efforts to reach out to the opposition through its senior leaders as a "formality and a PR exercise", Azad said the ruling party should have built consensus before announcing the candidate. "But they informed us after announcing this decision so there is no scope for consensus now... we were not expecting this from the ruling party. But it is their will, they are free to take a one-sided unilateral decision," Azad added. "Opposition parties will meet on June 22 to decide on fielding a consensus candidate for the Presidential election, with the NDA declaring Bihar Governor Ram Nath Kovind as its nominee for the post, Samajwadi Party leader Naresh Agarwal today said.

"The parties will meet and decide whether or not to field a consensus opposition candidate for the July 17 presidential election," Agarwal said. CPI national secretary D Raja said Union ministers Rajnath Singh and M Venkaiah Naidu, who were part of the BJP's three-member panel formed to hold discussions and build a consensus on a presidential candidate, had not propose any name. "Now, they have named a person with RSS background. We are against it, but we will have to discuss the issue within the CPI and with other opposition parties. A meeting will be held soon to discuss the same," he said.

Raja said Naidu spoke to him over the phone after BJP chief Amit Shah announced Kovind's name and sought the CPI's support for his candidature.