Support for the Opposition’s presidential candidate Yashwant Sinha is fast dwindling with non-NDA parties lining up behind the NDA nominee Droupadi Murmu. Former Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray is the latest to join the queue. On Tuesday he announced support for Ms. Murmu for the July 18 polls.
Mr. Thackeray's announcement came a day after a meeting of the Thackeray faction of the Shiv Sena where 12 out of the 18 Lok Sabha members requested him to support Ms. Murmu. With the legislature party being divided and majority MLAs joining hands with rebel party leader and now Chief Minister Eknath Shinde, the party was staring at yet another split with Lok Sabha members extending support to the Shinde camp.
Underplaying the announcement, Mr. Thackeray explained, “The Sena has taken similar decisions in the past. We had supported Pratibhatai Patil in her bid to become the country’s first woman president. We had also supported the late Pranab da, though he was the UPA candidate. Similarly, our MPs pointed out that it was time to support Draupadi Murmu ji, who comes from a very humble tribal background. So, we have decided to support the NDA candidate in this election."
Two Lok Sabha members, namely Shrikant Shinde — son of Mr. Eknath Shinde — and Yavatmal-Washim MP Bawana Gawali have already switched sides. Rahul Shewale, who represents the Mumbai south-central Lok Sabha constituency, had written a letter to Mr. Thackeray requesting him to extend support to the NDA candidate. Amid reports that the Chief Minister would be attending a meeting of the NDA to consolidate support for Ms. Murmu and in a bid to avoid a further split within the elected representatives of the party, Mr. Thackeray is said to have decided to extend support to the NDA candidate.
The decision however has not gone well with the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) ally Congress. In a statement, Congress Legislature Party leader Balasaheb Thorat said that despite being a part of the MVA, Mr. Thackeray did not consult anyone before announcing his decision.
“Shiv Sena is a political party and it has freedom to take a different stand. But at a time when undemocratic means were used to bring down a government and the very existence of the Sena was questioned, the stand taken today is inexplicable,” said Mr. Thorat, adding that the present presidential election is a part of larger battle to save democracy and not about tribal and non-tribals or man versus woman.
Earlier, Sena’s Rajya Sabha member Sanjay Raut had said that supporting the NDA candidate does not mean supporting the BJP.
The Shiv Sena now joins a long list of non-NDA parties which have announced their vote for Ms. Murmu. On Sunday, after a meeting between former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda and Ms. Murmu at the former's residence in Bengaluru, the Janata Dal (Secular) also announced its support for her.
The Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) has also made it abundantly clear that it will vote for Ms. Murmu. She visited JMM president Shibu Soren and its executive president and Chief Minister Hemant Soren in Ranchi on July 5. Mr. Sinha, who has represented the Hazaribagh Lok Sabha constituency in Jharkhand multiple times, has not yet toured the State.
Mr. Sinha was the vice-president of the Trinamool Congress before he resigned from the party to contest as an independent for the presidential elections. West Bengal Chief Minister and TMC president Mamata Banerjee's response has been less than tepid ever since Ms. Murmu's candidature was announced. Mr. Sinha, who is on a whirlwind trip across the country, will not be going to West Bengal. Though, according to TMC sources, the party legislators and parliamentarians will vote for him. “Contrary to the reports, the TMC strongly backs Mr. Sinha and we will in fact mobilise the BJP MLAs and parliamentarians from West Bengal to vote for him,” a senior leader said.
Mr. Sinha also cannot count on the support of the Aam Aadmi Party, despite the fact that NCP patriarch Sharad Pawar had reached out to Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, lobbying for support for him. The party has so far not said a word on the presidential polls.
The other opposition parties like the BSP and the Akali Dal, which have nominal strength, have already declared their pro-Murmu stand. The Biju Janata Dal and the YSR Congress party were already with the NDA nominee.
The only gain to the Opposition bloc in comparison to the last presidential polls is the Telangana Rashtra Samithi. TRS president and Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrashekhar Rao had given a grand welcome to Mr. Sinha during his recent trip to the city.
(With inputs from Delhi)