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Opposition Jolted by Nitish Support to Kovind; Can it Hold its Ground Now?

It is egg on the face of the Opposition as Nitish Kumar's JD(U) announced its support for NDA's presidential candidate Ram Nath Kovind just a day before the Congress and other opposition parties were set to announce their candidate.

Pallavi Ghosh | CNN-News18_pallavighosh

Updated:June 24, 2017, 5:14 PM IST
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Opposition Jolted by Nitish Support to Kovind; Can it Hold its Ground Now?
File photo of Bihar CM Nitish Kumar.

New Delhi: It is egg on the face of the Opposition. Nitish Kumar's JD(U) has announced its support for NDA's presidential candidate Ram Nath Kovind just a day before the Congress and other opposition parties were set to announce their candidate.

It's an unkind cut especially since the Opposition was reportedly thinking of fielding former Lok Sabha speaker Meira Kumar in a move to get Nitish to vote along with them. The sudden announcement by Nitish has apparently foreclosed that option and the Congress and friends will have the mortification of watching Nitish voting along with the BJP with less than two years to go for the 2019 general elections.

The decision to support Kovind was taken at a meeting of JD(U) leaders. With this, the growing proximity between Nitish Kumar and Prime Minister Narendra Modi has become even more apparent.

ALSO READ: Nitish Kumar Announces Support For Ram Nath Kovind in Prez Poll Race

Sources in the TMC and Congress confirm they will go ahead with their decision to contest the presidential polls. It's not about whether we will win, it's about the ideology, said a source.

In every meeting with the government, Sonia, Mamata and the Left have made it clear there can be a consensus only when the candidate is secular and not from an RSS background. Now the challenge before the Opposition is to come up with a name which could force some parties to rethink. The names of Meira Kumar and former home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde have been suggested; more names could come up at the Opposition meeting on June 22.

A TMC source told News18, "Whether we lose by 30% or 35% doesn't matter. Nitish has proved to be a backstabber and, yes, this is a setback but our fight is on". In private, Congress leaders too echoed the sentiment and called Nitish a traitor, forgetting that he remains their ally in Bihar.

ALSO READ: BJP's Presidential Poll Pick Boils Down to 2019 UP Equation

After putting up a candidate, Congress will officially appeal to all secular parties to vote according to their conscience. But it's aware that it has already lost out in the numbers game.

With its numbers increasing every day, the BJP seems poised for a cakewalk. The JD(U) support came a day after the BJP's difficult ally Shiv Sena decided to support Kovind. Congress sources say they still hope to come up with a name that could break that support, which is the reason why Shinde's name – fitting both the Maharashtrian and a Dalit card – is in the reckoning.

But, despite all this, the Opposition unity certainly looks truncated with BJD and TRS supporting the government's choice. There is a growing sense the Opposition did not gauge the situation well when it decided not to finalise a name till the NDA came out with theirs.

If the Opposition had come out with a Dalit name first, it may have still scored a political point despite losing the presidential polls. Today, it not only looks weaker, but is also busy trying to play catch-up, instead of setting the pace.

ALSO READ: Why the BJP Picked Ram Nath Kovind for Rashtrapati Bhavan

What's the Opposition's game plan now? Its first challenge is to ensure that there is no further erosion in its ranks. It knows this is not just not about presidential polls, and that a break in unity will create the perception it is just not strong enough to take on Modi in 2019.

The name has to be good enough to ensure unity, and hopefully, even bring back some of the lost flock. As of now, in this political ping pong, the ball is clearly in the government's court.

ALSO READ: For Presidential Election, Congress May Match BJP's Dalit Card With Sushil Kumar Shinde or Meira Kumar

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| Edited by: Bijaya Das
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