New Delhi: Can the Opposition come up with a move that can match the political masterstroke played by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah in naming Ram Nath Kovind as presidential candidate?
When the Congress sits down with other parties on Thursday to finalise a name, there were two priorities before its leaders — to come up with something that can ace the Dalit card played by the BJP, and to keep Opposition unity intact ahead of 2019 general elections. Already BSP chief Mayawati and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar have indicated it would be difficult for them to vote against Kovind.
There are two names doing the rounds now: former Lok Sabha speaker Meira Kumar and former home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde.
Both are Dalit faces. Meira Kumar carries the Babu Jagjivan Ram legacy, and is from Bihar. It would be difficult for Nitish to ignore her; it will also be easy for Mayawati to vote for her.
But Meira kumar has her share of negative marks. She was seen as someone who held on to her Lutyens bungalow much after term as Speaker ended in 2014. There were allegations against some of the property deals done by her. As Lok Sabha Speaker, Kumar's term was uninspiring. But despite all these, if she still manages to get Nitish's JD(U) to vote for her it will be a victory of sorts for the Congress.
If, on the other hand, the Congress decides to go with Shinde, then it would be a repeat of a game it played in 2007 when it got the Shiv Sena to break ranks from the BJP alliance and vote for Pratibha Patil because she is from Maharashtra. Shinde's Dalit credentials would also ensure the support of Mayawati and some others.
The final call will be made on June 22, though the Congress leading the charge has not gone down well with other parties in the opposition.
However, backroom talks have already begun. The Trinamool Congress has already reached out to the Left parties and the JD(U), with BJP ally Chandrababu Naidu having failed in getting Mamata to vote for Kovind. The game has already begun.