The ruling party sprung a surprise on Monday by putting forth Bihar Governor Ram Nath Kovind’s name as the next President of India, getting everyone in the country, including the opposition off guard. Kovind’s name has resulted in various reactions, including dissent from certain opposition parties. Union minister Venkaiah Naidu speaks exclusively to CNN-News18’s Marya Shakil on why it boiled down to Kovind, and how the ruling party plans to take on the opposition in the upcoming Presidential polls.
Q. You’re a member of the BJP Parliamentary board and also part of the panel constituted by Amit Shah for the Presidential polls. Could you tell us what all names were there in the list of probable names for President?
A. The party president has explained to everyone how the process took place. The Prime Minister also made it clear that he did not want it anyone kept out of the decision making. All stakeholders have been consulted and whatever has been suggested by the Parliamentary Board has also been taken into consideration. Choosing Kovind was a unanimous decision.
Q. The initial reactions from various parties, including your ally Shiv Sena, have not been very positive. Sanjay Raut has gone on record saying that the BJP should have shared the name with Uddhav Thackeray when Shah met him on Sunday. Why did you not disclose the name? Do you think it will be possible to build a consensus?
A. I don’t want to discuss anything or argue over the matter with any of our allies. They have been consulted, and Amit Shah has personally met the Shiv Sena chief. I would just like to say that the Shiv Sena supremo was spoken to on Sunday and even on Monday. I don’t want to debate or argue with them. They are our allies and we would never try to spoil things with them or jeopardise our alliance.
Q. Ghulam Nabi Azad has said that it’s a one-sided decision.
A. They have got every right in the democracy. We discussed with Congress and other parties about possible names, and have kept their inputs in mind while deciding on our candidate. We discussed the possibilities with the SP, BSP, NCP and other parties too. We received inputs from them, asking them what sort of a candidate they expected. We didn’t give them a name, and neither did they. So, finally the parliamentary board met on Monday. Amit Shah had consulted all our allies and also the panel that he had constituted for the Presidential elections, which included Arun Jaitley, Rajnath Singh and I. Amit Shah had spoken to Shiv Sena and I have, myself, spoken to communist leaders.
It was only after careful and intricate discussion with all stakeholders involved, including the opposition that we have come to a conclusion. The Prime Minister spoke to the Congress president and other party leaders before deciding on a final name. Ram Nath Kovind’s background and work for the under privileged makes him the best possible candidate. He is not controversial at all. His humble, social background only makes him more committed to issues of the lesser privileged.
I am confident that the opposition will support us. They have every right to sit amongst us during such times of important decision making. And we have made it a point to include each one of them.
Q. You’ve previously said that the President of the country will solely be that, and not be the President of any party. Then why is there a focus on consensus building when you have the numbers in the Electoral College?
A. It’s not a question of numbers alone. Consensus has always been there. Right from 1977 when Sanjay Naidu was the President to times when APJ Abdul Kalam was in the position, there has always been a broad consensus. In spite of having the numbers, we reached out to other opposition parties before taking a final call. The manner in which we’re getting this done has been appreciated by one and all.
Q. The criticism, however, is that when you did meet the opposition, you didn’t have a name. Do you think it would have been better had you gone to them with a name?
A. Let’s say we had gone with a name. Then they would say that we’ve already decided on a name. So, it’s only better that we consulted them and then took all their inputs into consideration to arrive at a decision.
Q. If the opposition decides to field a candidate, what will be the government’s next move?
A. I am hopeful that the opposition will realise the mood of the nation and extend their support to Kovind.
If they do field a candidate, I am hopeful that they will put forward the name of a capable candidate.
Q. Kovind will not be the first Dalit President (KR Narayanan was the first ever from the community). What is the message that the BJP is looking to send?
A. We are not appealing to the people to support him because of his background. Look at his work. He has made tremendous contribution to the political sphere and was president of the SC/ST Morcha. He is a son of the farmer and comes from the lowest strata of the society. He was a 2-time Rajya Sabha MP, and has made tremendous contribution to the debates in the House. He has been president of the SC/ST Morcha three times, and was part of the government council during 1971. He was an advocate in the Supreme Court. With his legal background and rich political experience, he is a good choice.
Q. Very little is known about Kovind. What is your personal take on the NDA Presidential candidate?
A. Personally too, I can vouch for the fact that he is an extremely soft-spoken man and humble. I was party president when he was made the president of the SC/ST Morcha, and from my interactions with him, I can tell you that he has been steady in his work for upliftment of those who are lesser privileged.