Congress President Sonia Gandhi on Wednesday stepped up discussions for forging opposition unity on fielding a joint presidential candidate, holding talks with working president of the National Conference Omar Abdullah.
Gandhi, who has been at the forefront of efforts to evolve a consensus among opposition parties for putting up common candidates for the posts of president and vice president who are “acceptable to the country”, will be holding parleys with West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, Bahujan Samaj Party supremo Mayawati and Dravida Munnetra Kazagham leader M K Stalin soon, Congress sources said.
They added that the meetings with these leaders will be held over a week or 10 days.
The Congress chief has already held talks with several opposition leaders including Nitish Kumar and Sharad Yadav of the Janata Dal-United, Nationalist Congress Party president Sharad Pawar and Left leaders Sitaram Yechury and D Raja, besides Indian Union Muslim League general secretary P K Kunhalikkutty.
She has separately held telephonic conversation with Samajwadi Party’s Mulayam Singh Yadav and Rashtriya Janata Dal Lalu Prasad, even as party vice president Rahul Gandhi also held consultations with Sharad Pawar, Yechury and Uttar Pradesh’s former chief minister Akhilesh Yadav, the sources said.
A senior Congress leader said opposition parties are trying to build a consensus on the issue.
He also said that once the initial discussions are over, if needed, structured talks with important leaders could take place. He voiced hope that the names would be finalised before the end of this month.
“One man decides all dictum will not do and one ideology can’t be thrust upon this country. There has to be a national consensus on posts as important as the post of president and vice president,” said party in-charge of communications department Randeep Surjewala.
He said Sonia and Rahul Gandhi have both held talks with a series of leaders and “our doors and minds are open, for we feel that one person cannot decide everything”.
The Congress leader claimed the Modi government had decided to not hold consultations even inside the cabinet, much less with National Democratic Alliance allies.
Surjewala said, in these circumstances, should this country not rise in unison and agree to a person who would be best suited to defend our Constitution, lead our armed forces and protect the democratic ethos of the country.
“The battle of ideologies, battle of defending the Constitution, battle of protecting what is core foundation of our democracy is larger than any other goal that any political party should strive for. That is what the Congress party and all other political parties are striving for today,” he said.
The Congress had not fielded its candidate against APJ Abdul Kalam when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the prime minister.
“Modi is no Vajpayee. In his thought process there is no scope for dissent or dialogue. Perhaps that is the reason why prime minister and party do not consult their own allies,” Surjewala said.
The sudden flurry of activity by the opposition to forge a strong alliance to take on the Narendra Modi-led NDA in the presidential election has come after a string of victories for BJP in state assembly polls and municipal elections.
Some feel the united face of the opposition for the presidential poll may well turn out to be a precursor to an anti-NDA front ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha election.
The presidential election has to be held before July 24 when incumbent Pranab Mukherjee’s term ends.
He had taken office in July 2012, defeating the NDA’s candidate late P A Sangma.