Gopal Gandhi Opposition parties’ choice for Vice-President

The Asian Age.  | Sreeparna Chakrabarty

India, Politics

Mr Gandhi, a former West Bengal governor, will file his nomination on July 17.

Gopalkrishna Gandhi

New Delhi: The Opposition parties on Tuesday unanimously chose former diplomat and governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi as its candidate for vice-president, stealing a march over the ruling NDA, which is yet to announce its candidate. Mr Gandhi was the Opposition’s initial choice for President before it nominated former Speaker Meira Kumar, a dalit, as its candidate after the NDA chose Ram Nath Kovind, another dalit, as its presidential nominee.

Mr Gandhi, a former West Bengal governor, will file his nomination on July 17.

Though representatives of 18 parties were present at the meeting, there were doubts over the JD(U)’s support. Sources said though its Rajya Sabha member Sharad Yadav attended the meeting, there was no clearance yet from JD(U) president and Bihar CM Nitish Kumar,who is engaged in a war of words with the RJD in Bihar. Mr Kumar had earlier broken ranks and backed the NDA’s candidate, Mr Kovind, in the presidential election.

After the meeting, Congress president Sonia Gandhi announced that leaders of 18 Opposition parties got together to decide on the vice-presidential candidate. “All of them spoke in support of Gopal Gandhi and have decided to field him as their joint candidate for the vice-presidential election. We spoke to him, after which he agreed to be the joint Opposition candidate for Vice-President of India,” Mrs Gandhi said after the meeting.

Though there were some other names doing the rounds as well, Mr Gandhi’s name was decided upon by the Congress president, West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee and CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury. After getting Mr Gandhi’s consent, Mr Yechury  took him for a late-night meeting with Mrs Gandhi at her 10 Janpath residence here on Monday, where the decision to field him was sealed.

The former West Bengal governor said he accepted the nomination with all “seriousness”. He said: “I applaud the unity and conviction with which the Opposition parties have asked me to be their candidate for the vice-presidentship and I accept the nomination with all the seriousness that it calls for.” Ms Banerjee had suggested Mr Gandhi’s name to the Congress president last week.

Early on Tuesday morning, before the Opposition meeting, leaders like the Congress’ Ghulam Nabi Azad, Mr Yechury, CPI’s D. Raja and NCP’s Tariq Anwar had a quick meeting at the Central Hall and decided to unanimously propose Mr Gandhi’s name. In fact, sources told this newspaper the former diplomat was given a call from the meeting itself and three leaders — Mr Azad, Mr Yechury and Trinamul Congress’ Derek O’Brien — asked for his consent. Mr Gandhi, who was delivering a lecture at Ashoka University, sought 15 minutes’ time, and then confirmed he was ready to contest after that.

Mr Gandhi is the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi and C. Rajagopalachari and is a well-known liberal scholar. He is a also a retired IAS officer and a former diplomat.

Trinamul leader Derek O’Brien said that the Opposition parties had also decided to coordinate on various issues and raise them at three levels — inside Parliament, outside Parliament and on the social media.

“The parties have also decided to meet at least once a month to coordinate on various matters,” he said, adding that they would take up key issues like farmer suicides, the fallout of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) and demonetisation, as well as the role being played by some governors.