Meira is Oppn's Dalit card for Prez poll

Ex-Speaker made scapecoat by Cong, says BJP
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Agencies
NEW DELHI
22 Jun 2017

Former Lok Sabha speaker and senior Congress leader Meira Kumar, a Dalit, is Opposition's candidate to take on NDA nominee Ram Nath Kovind for Presidential election. The decision was taken after 17 Opposition parties met in the national capital today to pick their candidate.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi, former Prime Minister M Manmohan Singh, RJD chief Lalu Prasad, Sharad Pawar (NCP), Sitaram Yechury (CPM), D Raja (CPI), Darek O' Brien (TMC), Ram Gopal Yadav (SP), Satish Chandra Mishra (BSP), Omar Abdullah (NC), Kanimozhi (DMK) and Ghulam Nabi Azad, Mallikarjun Kharge were among those who attended the meet. With Kovind also being a Dalit, this makes it a Dalit vs Dalit Presidential contest. "We have decided to field the name of Meira Kumar for the Ppresidential election. We do hope that other parties also join us," Gandhi said. Her party colleague, senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad said Kumar was a unanimous choice.

"Daughter of freedom fighter Jagjivan Ram, Meira Kumar is an experienced leader and has served in various capacities," Azad said. Pawar proposed three names - Kumar, former Union home minister Sushilkumar Shinde and Rajya Sabha MP Bhalchandra Mungekar, both Dalits from Maharashtra. CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury put forward the names of Gopalkrishna Gandhi, grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, and Prakash Ambedkar, the grandson of BR Ambedkar, according to news agency PTI. Kumar is a lawyer and a former diplomat and is a five-time Member of Parliament. She was elected unopposed as the first woman speaker of Lok Sabha and served from 2009 to 2014.

The former Lok Sabha Speaker's meeting with the Congress president at her residence on Wednesday had fuelled speculation that she had emerged as the front runner. Apart from her, other names which had been doing the rounds were those of BR Ambedkar's grandson Prakash Ambedkar and former minister Sushilkumar Shinde. On the other hand, in a surprise move, the BJP had announced on June 19 that the low- profile Kovind (Bihar Governor) was the National Democratic Alliance's Presidential candidate. If elected, the 71- year-old former lawyer will become India's 14th president and would be only the second Dalit to occupy the Rashtrapati Bhavan after KR Narayanan.

The BJP's pick, a former two-time Rajya Sabha MP, had not figured in the names that were doing the rounds. The rumour mills had put BJP veterans LK Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and Jharkhand Governor Draupadi Murmu as amongst the probables. Meanwhile, cracks had appeared in the Opposition ahead of today's crucial meeting, with the JD-U deciding to stay out of the talks after extending its support to NDA nominee Ram Nath Kovind on Wednesday. Soon after the announcement was reported, the BJP said that the Congress has made Meira Kumar a "scapegoat" by fielding her as the Opposition's Presidential candidate. The rulling party also questioned why the Congress did not nominate her when it was in a position to get her elected to the highest office.

"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 marginalised sections to high offices and had decided to field her purely done as a token exercise," BJP spokesperson G V L Narsimha Rao said.