New Delhi: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) sprang a surprise on Monday when it announced Bihar Governor Ram Nath Kovind as its pick for presidential elections, scheduled on July 17.
Kovind, 71, is a Dalit (low-caste) and the current Governor of Bihar.
His nomination was announced by BJP president Amit Shah after a nearly two-hour meeting of the party’s Parliamentary Board on Monday morning. The announcement was made after Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi met with Shah and other top party leaders.
In order to win over the Opposition, Modi personally spoke to Congress leaders Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh, as well as chief ministers of Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Odisha.
Kovind is likely to file the nomination papers on June 23.
Shah said all constituent parties of BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) have been informed of the presidential choice.
“All allies of BJP have been informed of this decision. I hope all will agree to the name of Ram Nath Kovind,” Shah told the media.
After announcing Kovind as BJP’s presidential candidate, Modi praised him on his Twitter handle.
“Ram Nath Kovind is a farmer’s son who comes from a humble background and his knowledge and understanding of the Constitution will benefit the nation,” the PM tweeted.
“The selection of a Dalit leader for President is a move by BJP to consolidate its growing support among backward castes and poorer voters,” a source in BJP said.
However, the Opposition said that the BJP did not seek any input or consensus from Opposition parties on Kovind’s candidature.
“BJP unilaterally took a decision, but it is up to them. One of our colleagues said it was a public relations exercise. Without revealing the name, how will you build a consensus? On the presidential nominee announced by NDA, we have nothing to say. We don’t want to comment on the merits and demerits of the candidate. The Opposition was given to understand that they will be taken into confidence,” Congress spokesperson Ghulam Nabi Azad told media.
On the party’s future course of action, Azad said, “so far as the future strategy of the Opposition is concerned, we are not going to comment on it until the next meeting, which has been fixed on June 22. Sonia Gandhi will be presiding over the meeting.”
BJP ally Shiv Sena said it will announce soon whether or not it will back Kovind as presidential candidate.
On Monday, Sena said BJP did not follow protocol.
“We discovered Kovind’s nomination through the media. BJP president Amit Shah called up Sena president Uddhav Thackeray much later after announcing the candidature of the Bihar Governor for the July 17 election,” Shiv Sena Member of Parliament (MP) Sanjay Raut told media.
Interestingly, regional parties such as Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) and All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) have expressed their readiness to support Kovind.