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Opposition leaders meet to decide on presidential nominee

Thursday, Jun 22, 2017,18:10 IST By anju A A A

New Delhi | A crucial meeting of opposition parties to decide on a joint strategy for the presidential election started today, attended by leaders of 17 parties.

Prominent among those who attended the meeting held in the Parliament House Library were Congress president Sonia Gandhi, former prime minister Manmohan Singh and senior party leaders Ghulam Nabi Azad, Mallikarjun Kharge and Ahmed Patel, besides NCP’s Sharad Pawar and RJD’s Lalu Prasad.

Left leaders Sitaram Yechury and D Raja, DMK’s Kanimozhi and National Conference’s Omar Abdullah also attended the meeting.

Though Trinamool Congress’ Mamata Banerjee, BSP’s Mayawati and SP’s Akhilesh Yadav, who were present at the last opposition meeting held on May 26, were missing, their representatives were there. While Derek O’ Brien represented the Trinamool, the SP sent Ramgopal Yadav and the BSP Satish Mishra.

Other parties represented at the meeting included JD-S, RSP, JMM, Kerala Congress, IUML and the AIUDF of Assam.

JD-U, which has decided to back BJP’s presidential nominee Ram Nath Kovind, skipped today’s meeting. But RLD chief Ajit Singh attended, making up the numbers.

Most of these leaders were present during the May 26 luncheon meeting hosted by Sonia Gandhi at the same venue.

Sources said the opposition camp will evolve its strategy for the July 17 presidential election and decide on a joint candidate to take on NDA’s Kovind.

Today’s meeting was preceded by hectic parleys between leaders of non-NDA parties since morning.

The Congress has stepped up its efforts to keep the opposition united as its top brass held discussions with the leaders of a host of other parties after the JD-U’s decision.

Cracks had appeared in the opposition camp after the JD- U’s surprise decision yesterday, as its chief Nitish Kumar was the one who had initiated the process for a joint opposition strategy on the issue.

Sources said a contest for the country’s top constitutional post is on the cards as the majority in the opposition sees it an “ideological battle” that has to fought.

Efforts were on to ensure that the NCP did not stray, as the Sharad Pawar-led party held internal discussions to decide on its strategy for the presidential election.

By naming Kovind, a Dalit, the NDA has put the opposition camp in a fix as it has now been forced to think of a suitable Dalit candidate to oppose Kovind so as not to be branded “anti-Dalit” by the ruling dispensation.

The names of former speaker Meira Kumar and Prakash Ambedkar, grandson of the principal architect of the Constitution, B R Ambedkar, have been discussed, the sources said.

The Left parties are keen to project Gopalkrishna Gandhi and Prakash Ambedkar, but other parties, including the Congress, are believed to be putting their weight behind Meira Kumar.

Kumar yesterday met Sonia Gandhi along with other senior party leaders, fuelling speculation that the party was willing to support her candidature.

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