Nitish supports Kovind, blunts opposition strategy of a joint presidential candidate

The upcoming presidential poll has sent political parties into a tizzy. Instead of a straightforward election for the top post, the poll has become a litmus test for loyalty within both ruling and opposition ranks. Plus, given that the presidential poll is being viewed as a primer for the 2019 Lok Sabha election, parties are not only using this opportunity to signal to the electorate but also evaluate their alliance options for the big fight in two years’ time. Here the BJP-led NDA has stolen a march over opposition parties by proposing Ram Nath Kovind as its candidate.

Kovind’s UP Dalit identity and track record as a seasoned politician appear to have flummoxed opposition parties which are now wary of challenging his candidacy for fear of being seen as anti-Dalit. Opposition strategy had hinged on uniting all non-NDA parties to present a common candidate. That strategy has already taken a hit with AIADMK, BJD, TRS and YSR Congress expressing support for Kovind. BSP chief Mayawati has described NDA’s candidate as positive but not ruled out the possibility of supporting a Dalit nominee from the opposition side.

It’s Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar’s oscillations that have been most interesting. It was Nitish who had set the ball rolling for a joint opposition candidate for the presidential poll back in April. However, he now favours Kovind who was till Tuesday the Bihar governor. Nitish apparently feels that Kovind is a “good man” and had conducted himself professionally at the Patna Raj Bhavan. But Nitish has been playing this game for a while now. Despite being in alliance with RJD and Congress, he has toed the BJP line on several issues including demonetisation. He wants to keep both allies and opponents guessing, making the JD(U) a desirable commodity for all.

Besides, Nitish is aware that his alliance with RJD and association with Lalu Prasad may not serve him well in 2019, especially if he wants a big role for himself. So it suits him to play chameleon. Of course JD(U) support for Kovind virtually ensures his election as the next President of India. Opposition parties are meeting today to take a call on a possible joint candidate – perhaps Meira Kumar or Sushil Kumar Shinde. When they do force a contest, it will only be a symbolic battle. For now, it’s advantage BJP.

DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.