NEW DELHI: The Bharatiya Janata Party has announced the name of Bihar Governor Ram Nath Kovind as the NDA candidate for the forthcoming Presidential elections. It expects to get the support of all the NDA allies, including the more rebellious Shiv Sena and the Telengana Rashtriya Samiti and sail through with the AIADMK and possibly the Biju Janata Dal preferring to stay on the side of the ruling party, rather than being drawn into the vortex of a fractious Opposition.

Kovind is a Dalit from Kanpur. He has contested elections to the Lok Sabha but did not succeed and has been a two term Rajya Sabha MP. He also practiced as a lawyer in New Delhi, and is a quiet BJP member, neither controversial or assertive. He was Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s choice for Bihar Governor, and while making the announcement BJP president Amit Shah said, ““Ram Nath Kovind always fought for the betterment of the Dalits and other backward castes.”

The Opposition that had tentatively started speaking about a unified approach is today bereft of ideas and as a senior leader not wanting to go on the record at this stage said, “bereft of unity as well.” All Opposition parties are pulling in different directions, and have at present left it to the Congress party to take the lead. Last heard, the Congress was hovering around the name of former West Bengal Governor Gopal Gandhi but in the present circumstances, with the NDA fielding a Dalit for the top post, Opposition sources said, “we will have to revisit this now.”

A meeting was fixed for June 22, but the “early” announcement by the BJP has some of the leaders now talking of an earlier meeting. However, no decision on this has taken and as the sources said, “it seems that the three days might be wasted in doing nothing.”

Despite the fact that the elections for the President of India will be held as per set dates the Opposition, to put it mildly, has been waffling with no one really serious about discussing and finalising a candidate well in advance. It remains to be seen whether the larger meeting, whenever it is finally held, will reach a consensus to make the election a viable contest. There are as many ideas as there are leaders, it seems, and till last heard some of the regional parties were still searching for a suitable candidate.

A senior Opposition leader equated the candidature of the Bihar Governor with the earlier selection of Pratibha Patil, a Congress party member and little known until Congress party president Sonia Gandhi brought her in, and she was elected President.

The Shiv Sena is still not happy, but sources expect it to be won over unless the Opposition is able to agree on a more acceptable candidate. Currently the Shiv Sena is angry about what it claims was the BJPs refusal to consult all allies, and appoint a party team to finalise the Presidential candidate. Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut has said as much but the BJP is optimistic that it will get this ally’s support as well as the others.

Opposition sources were worried about the visible disinterest within the regional parties with the DMK and the Trinamool Congress party being the only two who are keen to ensure a consensus candidate from within. The Congress party has been dragging its feet with the top leaders remaining inaccessible for even informal consultations with other leaders outside. The expected reach out to the Biju Janata Dal that is worried about the next Assembly elections now, has not taken place with Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik reportedly still out of the Opposition loop.

On the other side BJP President Amit Shah is personally in charge of ensuring that the NDA candidate makes it to Rashtrapati Bhawan. He has set up what a newspaper recently described as a “war room” whatever that means, to supervise the elections and leave nothing in the legislatures to chance. At best the Opposition can hope to select a sound, reputed Presidential candidate as a limited choice, who is able to take a Constitutional position through the elections and ensure that a second voice is heard. But as a Rajya Sabha MP said, “lets see….” making it clear it was too “early” to make even this basic prediction at this point in time.