NDA gets boost as Sena backs Kovind, opposition braces for contest

NDA gets boost as Sena backs Kovind, opposition braces for contest

"Now that we have extended support, I don't think there should be any obstacle", Thackeray said, adding he can not endlessly wait for the opposition parties to finalise their candidate for the post.

The 71-year-old low profile Dalit leader, a two-term BJP Rajya Sabha member, is seen as an astute choice by the saffron party, which has been targeted by opposition parties over Dalit issues, and his election is nearly a certainty as the ruling bloc with the support of some regional parties enjoys a majority in the electoral college.

The opposition parties are now in a quandary as they find nothing to oppose the nomination of Kovind, a Dalit leader, except his being a member of the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh), an organisation that all opposition parties consider anti-secular. If that is so, we are not interested in backing him. He, however, said a detailed discussion would be held on the matter within the JD (U).

The Shiv Sena had strayed from the NDA line and supported the UPA candidates in 2007 when Pratibha Patil won the election and in 2012 when incumbent Pranab Mukherjee was elected.

Downplaying the rift within the NDA following Uddhav Thackeray's criticism that the BJP was fielding Kovind to win over Dalit votes, Swamy said that it was natural of its "Hindutva brother" to side with the ruling dispensation.

Shiv Sena, which has now voiced its reservations to Kovind's candidature, had projected T N Seshan as its candidate who lost in an one-sided contest. And instead prefer a candidate who has worked under them at some point or the other, and hence remains beholden for the post. Kovind is set to be India's 14th president with the BJP yesterday announcing the little-known Dalit activist as its nominee for the country's top constitutional job.

Meanwhile, BJP leaders say Kovind is well-read and has done well as chief of the BJP's SC/ST cell.

The NDA is short of majority by barely 20,000 votes but with several non-NDA parties pledging their support to its candidate, the ruling block now enjoys a comfortable majority. Kovind comes to the highest office after earning praise from Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, a political rival to the BJP, for his work as a governor.

The leaders of the Opposition will meet on Thursday to decide their candidate. Kovind also wanted the government to make public the General Henderson Brooks Report on the India China war of 1962.

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar called on Kovind immediately after Shah's announcement. "We didn't expect this from them", said senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad.

Earlier in the day, Kovind met Home Minister Rajnath Singh, who conveyed his best wishes on his nomination.