Why Meira Kumar is Opposition's best bet against BJP's Ram Nath Kovind
Making the Presidential Elections a Dalit versus Dalit fight is a win-win for Modi's arch-rivals.
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The Opposition's decision to field former Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar as its candidate to take on BJP's choice, Ram Nath Kovind in the presidential elections was the best it could come up with in the current circumstances.
The numbers were always stacked against it and irrespective of who the Opposition parties would put up, the outcome was a foregone conclusion. For the Opposition, it was not just about the presidential elections; the hope of coming together of a large number of Opposition parties would pave the way for a mahagatbandhan against the BJP in the general elections of 2019.
In making it a Dalit versus Dalit fight, the Opposition has sought to undercut the BJP's attempt to use Kovind's candidature to make inroads into the Dalit votebank.
In choosing Meira Kumar, a Dalit woman as its candidate, the Opposition also placated the likes of BSP chief Mayawati, and by making it a "Bihar ki beti" versus a BJP candidate who has only served as the governor of the state, they have also made it difficult for Nitish Kumar, the Bihar chief minister.
Being a woman and a Dalit tilted the scales in Meira Kumar's favour. Photo: PTI
Meira Kumar's claim to fame is not just that she is the former speaker of Lok Sabha. She has contested and won four Lok Sabha elections as opposed to Kovind, who has never won an election directly.
Unlike her opponent, Meira Kumar has a fair amount of administrative experience: she is a former diplomat, having served as the country ambassador to several countries besides serving as a minister at the Centre, as well as being the Speaker of the Lok Sabha.
In agreeing to her candidature, the Opposition has managed to maintain a semblance of unity within its ranks. In the long term, while Nitish Kumar's decision to opt out after having initiated the idea of the entire Opposition putting up a joint candidate is both intriguing and a big jolt to the Opposition, the fact that it managed to get arch-rivals like the TMC and the Left, the SP and the BSP to come together holds promise for the future.
It also suggests that there is a possibility of a similar grouping at the time of the next Lok Sabha elections in 2019.
Initially, the Opposition toyed with the idea of offering the names of former West Bengal governor Gopal Gandhi and even eminent agricultural scientist MS Swaminathan, but its hand was forced by the government's decision to field Ram Nath Kovind.
There is no way that the Congress, the Left, RJD and TMC would have agreed to support the BJP candidate, and with Mayawati making it clear that the only way she would support an Opposition candidate was if he or she was an eminent Dalit, it eventually boiled down to a choice between Meira Kumar, Prakash Ambedkar and Shinde.
Being a woman and a Dalit tilted the scales in Meira Kumar's favour.