Prez Poll: Sharad Pawar Won’t Contest, Mamata Proposes Names of Farooq Abdullah, Gopalkrishna Gandhi; Next Meet on June 20-21 in Mumbai

PDP Chief Mehbooba Mufti, West Bengal Chief Minister and TMC chief Mamata Banerjee, NCP Chief Sharad Pawar during a press conference after the opposition leaders' meeting regarding upcoming Presidential elections, in New Delhi, Wednesday, June 15, 2022. (PTI Photo/Ravi Choudhary)

NCP supremo Sharad Pawar declined to be the joint opposition candidate for the Presidential elections at the meeting called by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee in New Delhi on Wednesday. Banerjee, at the meeting, then proposed the names of National Conference chief Farooq Abdullah and Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson Gopalkrishna Gandhi as nominees for the July elections. Farooq Abdullah’s son and former J&K CM Omar Abdullah, however, asked not to discuss the names for the Presidential polls today, sources said.

Leaders of 17 opposition parties attended the crucial meeting to forge a consensus on fielding a common candidate against the BJP-led NDA in the presidential election. The opposition leaders said after the meeting that it has been decided that the joint opposition candidate should be someone who will “uphold the democratic ethos of the country".

Leaders of the Congress, Samajwadi Party, NCP, DMK, RJD and the Left parties attended the over two-hour-long meeting that began in Delhi’s Constituion Club at 3 pm. There were, however, some big absentees. The AAP, SAD, AIMIM, Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) and Odisha’s ruling BJD skipped it.

Leaders of Shiv Sena, CPI, CPI(M), CPI(ML), National Conference, PDP, JD(S), RSP, IUML, RLD and the JMM were among those who attended the meeting, which took place on the day the nomination for the presidential election began.

The next meeting of the opposition to further discuss the names of Presidential nominees will be held on June 21 in Delhi, said an NCP statement.

The election would be held on July 18 and counting will be taken up on July 21.

Sharad Pawar urged to reconsider decision

Pawar took to Twitter to thank the opposition parties for considering his name for the joint opposition candidate.

“I sincerely appreciate the leaders of opposition parties for suggesting my name as a candidate for the election of the President of India, at the meeting held in Delhi. However I like to state that I have humbly declined the proposal of my candidature," he wrote.

DMK leader T R Baalu told reporters after the meeting, “Leaders of all parties requested Sharad Pawar to contest the President’s election and be the joint candidate, but he declined the offer.” He said some leaders have requested that Mallikarjun Kharge, Pawar and Banerjee negotiate and discuss the issue of a consensus opposition candidate for the presidential election with all non-BJP parties.

RJD’s Manoj Jha, however, said the leaders would convince Pawar to reconsider the offer as he was the right candidate. Binoy Viswam, CPI leader, said that all parties proposed the name of Sharad Pawar for the Presidential poll, but he said he cannot take this up now due to his health. All parties requested him to reconsider his decision, he added.

RSP’s NK Premchandran, however, said that Banerjee later also suggested the names of Farooq Abdullah and Gopalkrishna Gandhi as possible opposition candidates. Senior opposition leaders, however, said that the remark was made in “passing" and “not seriously", PTI reported.

Meanwhile, Congress, in a statement said, that the party will play a constructive role in ensuring that the parties assembled in Delhi this afternoon arrive at a consensus candidate in the next few days. “Let us be proactive and not be reactive. The Congress Party has no particular candidate in mind. It will sit together with all of you and arrive at a candidate acceptable to all,” it added.

Who all attended the meeting

The leaders who attended the meeting included Sharad Pawar and Praful Patel of the NCP, Mallikarjun Kharge, Jairam Ramesh and Randeep Surjewala of the Congress, H D Deve Gowda and H D Kumaraswamy of the JD(S), Akhilesh Yadav of the SP, Mehbooba Mufti of the PDP and Omar Abdullah of the National Conference.

The meeting which began at 3 pm ended a little after 5 PM. Banerjee last week invited leaders of 19 political parties, including seven chief ministers, for the meeting in the national capital to produce a “confluence of opposition voices” for the July 18 election.

A day ahead of the meeting, Banerjee and Left party leaders had met Pawar at his residence separately to try and convince him to be the common opposition candidate for the top constitutional post.

Too premature to comment: Gopalkrishna Gandhi

Meanwhile, Gopalkrishna Gandhi said it is “too premature” for him to comment on his name being suggested as one of the probable Presidential nominees.

Former West Bengal governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi is the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi and C Rajagopalachari. He was the consensus opposition candidate for the post of Vice President of India in 2017 but had lost to M Venkaiah Naidu in the election. When asked about the possibility of him contesting the presidential polls, Gandhi told news agency PTI, “It is too premature to comment on it."

According to agency sources, some Opposition leaders have discussed the same with Gandhi over the phone and urged him to consider their request for being the joint opposition candidate for the post of President. Sources further said that the 77-year-old former bureaucrat has sought some time to respond to it.

The number game

The BJP-led NDA is comfortably placed to win the presidential election, with its vote share touching the 50 per cent mark of the total electors. While there are 776 MPs of both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha, each having 700 votes, there are 4,033 legislators in states with different votes who will also elect President Ram Nath Kovind’s successor.

Though the final list of electors is yet to be notified, the NDA has 440 MPs in its favour while the opposition UPA has around 180 MPs, besides 36 MPs of the TMC who normally support the opposition candidate. The election for the President will be held on July 18 which will see voting by members of both the Houses of Parliament and state Assemblies.

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