Mumbai: The Shiv Sena has refrained from spelling out its stand on Ram Nath Kovind, the BJP’s pick for the upcoming presidential election.
The party, which had backed the Congress-led UPA’s choices in the 2007 and 2012 polls, will take a "final decision" on Kovind at a meeting scheduled on Tuesday.
Addressing the 51st Foundation Day function of Sena in suburban Matunga on Monday evening, Thackeray said his party will not back Kovind if his candidature is aimed at garnering Dalit votes.
Thackeray had reportedly told visiting BJP chief Amit Shah on Sunday that the Sena would take a call on supporting the NDA nominee for the top constitutional post only after BJP reveals its choice. Shah had called on Thackeray at his residence.
On Monday, the BJP named Kovind, a Dalit leader who has been associated with the party and the RSS, as the NDA nominee for the presidential poll.
"If the name of Kovind is being put forward with a view to garner Dalit votes then the Sena is not interested. Sena has never indulged in the politics of hiding behind someone. We shall decide on whether or not to support the candidature of Kovind tomorrow (Tuesday)," Thackeray said.
Sena had earlier rooted for the candidature of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat on Hindutva line and later proposed the name of veteran agriculturist MS Swaminathan for the top post.
Bhagwat, however, didn't show any interest whereas Swaminathan chose not to react.
Sena, known for its unpredictability, backed the UPA nominee Pranab Mukherjee in the 2012 presidential polls against the NDA's PA Sangma. In 2007, Sena backed Pratibha Patil instead of NDA candidate Bhairon Singh Shekhawat. Thackeray said Sena had proposed Bhagwat's name while keeping in mind the concept of 'Hindurashtra' (Hindu nation).
"Considering that there may be objections to Bhagwat's name, we mooted the name of Dr M S Swaminathan taking note of his service to the cause of farmers," he told the gathering of Shiv Sainiks.
Sena spokesperson Sanjay Raut had said Shah called up Thackeray after the NDA's presidential choice was decided by the BJP's parliamentary board meeting, and sought the party's support for Kovind.
"Uddhavji told him that he will convene a meeting of the party leaders to arrive at a decision and convey our answer to him in one or two days," he said.
In the 288-member Maharashtra Assembly, the BJP has 122 MLAs and claims to have support of some more MLAs. Sena has 63 MLAs.
There are 67 members from Maharashtra in Parliament – 48 in the Lok Sabha and 19 in the Rajya Sabha. The BJP-led NDA (including Sena) has total of 52 MPs. Sena has 21 MPs — 18 in Lok Sabha and 3 in Rajya Sabha, while the BJP has 23 members in Lok Sabha and five members in Rajya Sabha from the state, that corresponds to a total value of 19,824 votes.
The Congress-led UPA has 15 MPs from the state in both the houses of Parliament. The total value of MP votes of the UPA is 10,620.
(With PTI inputs)