Making as many as 17 opposition parties chase a chimaera, former West Bengal governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi today turned down the opposition parties’ request to contest the upcoming presidential election after both Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar and former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah withdrew their names as probable opposition nominees for the July elections. According to two senior INC and communist leaders, internal consultations within opposition parties are in full swing to secure a consensus candidate before the meeting at the parliament annexe building tomorrow.
“Talks with just two-three parties are left to be carried out,” a top-ranking opposition leader said, seeking anonymity.
“For the past one month, we have consulted both Sonia and Rahul Gandhi and some other leaders about the possibility of fielding Gopalkrishna Gandhi as the opposition’s candidate,” a leader said on the condition of anonymity.
The INC has not proposed any name but it will wholeheartedly support Gandhi’s candidature, another senior Congressman had said. “We might even press for the announcement of the candidate in the June 21 meeting without waiting for the ruling dispensation to announce its nominee,” another INC leader quipped, pointing out that the leader of opposition in Rajya Sabha, Mallikarjun Kharge, had in the last meeting said that opposition parties need “to be proactive and not reactive”.
In the last meeting held on 15 June, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had proposed two names — Gopalkrishna Gandhi and Farooq Abdullah — as the opposition’s candidate after Pawar refused to fight the poll in order to continue his “service for the well-being of the people”.
Days later, Abdullah refused to be the opposition candidate, saying, “I believe that Jammu and Kashmir is passing through a critical juncture and my efforts are required to help navigate these uncertain times.”
Last week, Gopalkrishna Gandhi had said, “I was asked if I would consider contesting if a consensus around my name was to arise and I said I would need time to think about it.”
In today’s statement, however, the 77-year-old retired bureaucrat said several leaders of the opposition had done him the honour of thinking of him as their candidate in the upcoming elections for the presidency. “Having considered the matter deeply I see that the opposition’s candidate should be one who will generate a national consensus and a national atmosphere besides opposition unity. I feel there will be others who will do this far better than I,” Mr Gandhi said.
The statement comes ahead of a scheduled meeting of 17 opposition parties in Mumbai tomorrow to discuss their joint candidate for the presidential election. His name had been suggested by Trinamool Congress head Mamata Banerjee.
The former bureaucrat had served also as India’s high commissioner to South Africa and Sri Lanka. In 2017, he had fought the vice president’s election against M Venkaiah Naidu but failed to win. He is the grandson of Mohandas K Gandhi and C Rajagopalachari.
The process to elect a new president began on 15 June. The last date for filing of nominations is 29 June. The polls, if necessary, will be held on 18 July and the counting on 21 July.