Advantage Oppn: Mahatma's grandson Gopalkrishna Gandhi is its V-P candidate
Former West Bengal Governor and Mahatma Gandhi's grandson, Gopalkrishna Gandhi, is the Opposition's choice for the Vice-Presidential elections.
His name was announced after 18 Opposition parties met at Parliament House to discuss the upcoming polls.
“Eighteen parties have decided to field Gopalkrishna Gandhi as their Vice-Presidential candidate. We have spoken to Gopalkrishna Gandhi. He has agreed to be the Opposition's candidate,” said Congress president Sonia Gandhi after the meeting.
She went on to add that the message was passed on to the former bureaucrat by senior leaders, and that he sought 10-15 minutes to confirm. He was called again, after which he agreed to be the Opposition's candidate.
Later, speaking to PTI, Gandhi congratulated the Opposition for its “unity and conviction”, and said: “I accept the nomination with all the seriousness that it calls for. I applaud the unity and conviction with which the Opposition parties have asked me to be their candidate for the Vice-Presidentship.”
Gandhi was earlier being considered by the Opposition as its Presidential candidate, after the Left parties proposed his name, but eventually, former Lok Sabha speaker Meira Kumar was chosen to lead the Opposition's charge.
Learning lesson from Prez debacle
Having struggled to reach a consensus over their Presidential candidate, the Opposition parties seemed to have learnt their lesson.
The timely announcement of Gandhi's candidature has given the Opposition camp a glimmer of hope.
Earlier, while zeroing in on a Presidential candidate, the parties argued that they would announce their candidate only after the ruling party, the BJP, revealed its choice. However, this wait and watch strategy backfired, and the BJP stumped the Opposition by nominating then-Bihar Governor Ram Nath Kovind, a Dalit, as its nominee.
BJP strategists immediately reached out to regional parties for their support, and succeeded. By the time the Opposition announced Meira Kumar its candidate, the saffron party had already secured support in favour of Kovind. In fact, Bihar Chief Minister and JD(U) president Nitish Kumar was one of the first regional satraps to extend support to Kovind.
Nitish's support to the BJP candidate exposed the chink in the Opposition's armour, and led to speculation of the Bihar CM warming up to the BJP. This led to a war of words between the Congress and the JD(U), which was only resolved after Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi returned from his vacation.
Sources claimed that Rahul was against launching any personal attacks on Nitish, which led to the Congress calling the differences over the Presidential elections 'a closed chapter'.
Though Nitish did not attend Tuesday's meeting and sent Sharad Yadav on his behalf, the Opposition is hoping to get his nod for Gandhi. Sources say the decision to nominate Gandhi is also a ploy to check whether Nitish will be in the Opposition camp this time around. Earlier, in June, while attending DMK leader MK Karunanidhi's birthday bash in Chennai, Nitish had given his consent for Gandhi as the Opposition's Presidential candidate.
Reaching out to fence-sitters
After naming Gandhi, the Opposition now hopes to reach out to fence sitters like the Biju Janata Dal, and convince them to vote for Gandhi.
However, the brute majority that the BJP-led NDA enjoys in Parliament gives it a clear edge over its rivals, which the Opposition is well aware of. The Vice-President is elected by members of Parliament, unlike the President, who is voted for by an electoral college also including members of state Assemblies and Legislative Councils.
The BJP is convinced it can get its own choice elected to both the top posts. The Vice-Presidential elections will take pace on 5 August, with the results being declared the same day.
“We know that we don't have the desired numbers, but the idea is to make it a close contest, and to ensure that the entire Opposition, including the likes of the BJD, the Telangana Rashtra Samithi, among others, also lend us support. This will create a platform for a united Opposition, which can take on the BJP in 2019,” said one of the leaders who was part of the meeting.
TMC leader Derek O'Brien briefed the media after the meeting, and said it was his party which suggested Gandhi's name. Earlier, during the discussions on Presidential candidates, the Left parties had put their weight behind Gandhi.
Other issues discussed
Once the decision was taken, the Opposition parties discussed parliamentary strategy for the upcoming Monsoon Session of Parliament, and what issues can be taken up to corner the Narendra Modi government.
Thereafter, discussions on the fall out of the GST, farmer suicide and distress, misuse of Central agencies to target political opponents, demonetisation, social media strategies to counter BJP's propaganda and the role of Governors in non-BJP ruled states were discussed in great detail.
Even the recent raids by enforcement agencies on Lalu Prasad Yadav, the National Herald case and other cases against leaders of other political parties also came up for discussion.
O'Brien claimed that the Opposition parties would meet every month to discuss strategy, and that a coordination committee should be formed.
Soon after the meeting began, the leaders present observed silence for the Amarnath Yatra pilgrims who were killed in a terrorist attack on Monday. A resolution was also passed by the parties, wherein they condemned the “cowardly and ghastly” attack on the yatris, labelling it an attack on humanity, and the plurality and diversity of India. The resolution called upon the government to use all resources to bring the real perpetrators to justice. “The government needs to introspect as to why, despite advance intelligence inputs, was there a failure to prevent this attack?”
In yet another interesting development, despite not having any MP, Ajit Singh's Rashtriya Lok Dal was invited for the meeting, which took the tally of Opposition parties up to 18. It remains to be seen what value does the RLD add to this united Opposition.