How Meira Kumar versus Ram Nath Kovind has landed Nitish Kumar in trouble
Despite being on the weaker side, the Congress has unified the Opposition.
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Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar has expressed support for Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP's) presidential nominee Ram Nath Kovind. The fact that Kovind is a Dalit and the current Bihar governor are being seen as chief reasons behind Nitish's decision. If Kovind wins, he will be the first Dalit president from north India. Based on this argument, the Bihar CM gave the Opposition's meeting on June 22 for deciding the presidential nominee a miss.
The Opposition, although small in number, has played a strong hand. Congress leader and former Lok Sabha speaker Meira Kumar has been unanimously announced as the presidential candidate of the Congress-led Opposition. With this, both names in the race for president are Dalits. Essentially, no single faction can claim that theirs is the only Dalit candidate.
The Congress has effectively neutralised BJP's "Dalit card" by fielding a Dalit candidate of its own. Hence, more than the Dalit factor, this presidential election has now become a direct fight between the BJP and the Opposition. It would be fair to say that despite being on the weaker side, the Congress has won the fight owing to the show of unity in the Opposition.
If the numbers are any indication, there's no way anyone can stop Ram Nath Kovind from becoming the next president. Confident of a victory, many top BJP leaders are thronging to Delhi to mark their presence when Kovind files his nomination papers. However, an almost defeated Opposition has managed to successfully turn the race into a fight between the BJP and others.
Nitish in trouble
The Opposition candidate, Meira Kumar, is a Dalit and also a woman. BSP supremo Mayawati, who had earlier hinted at supporting Kovind's candidature, has now confirmed her support for Meira Kumar. RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav, while expressing support for Meira Kumar, said that if Nitish continues to support Kovind, it would be a historic blunder.
"We will meet Nitish Kumar and appeal to him to support Bihar's daughter," Lalu said. He added that this is a fight between ideologies and not personal choices.
17 parties were present in the Opposition's meeting and they agreed on Meira Kumar's name. Nitish Kumar was conspicuous by his absence. If he still goes with the NDA nominee, the Bihar CM would be left isolated in the Opposition camp. The same can be said for Mulayam Singh Yadav who has hinted at supporting Kovind.
Kovind may be the Bihar governor, but he is also a leader from Uttar Pradesh. Meira Kumar, on the other hand, is chiefly seen as a Bihari politician. So, not supporting her candidature would hurt Nitish Kumar in his home state.
Now, if a party argues that Kovind becoming the president is a foregone conclusion, the Opposition can counter that poor number strength in Parliament doesn't mean the Opposition must cede to the ruling party.
For parties in the Opposition, supporting Kovind because he's a Dalit can no longer be the reason to second the BJP's choice. They need to consider that should they go against the Opposition, the same can happen to them in the future.
For Nitish Kumar, especially, this is a tough question — one that he has to answer before it is too late.
(Translated from Hindi by Furqan Faridi.)