Opposition pits former minister & governor Alva against NDA nominee Dhankhar

New Delhi: The anti-BJP opposition party will field former governor and 80-year-old Union minister Margaret Alva as a consensus candidate against NDA candidate Jagdeep Dhankhar in the August 6 vice-presidential election.

Multi-term parliamentarian Alva’s name was announced on Sunday by NCP patriarch Sharad Pawar following a meeting of opposition leaders at his house in the national capital, where he asserted her vast legislative experience as the reason for her being picked as the nominee. Her candidature was backed by 17 parties, excluding Trinamool Congress and Aam Aadmi Party, both of which were not represented at the opposition meeting.

While AAP’s decision to stay away from the opposition meeting was consistent with its independent posturing in the presidential polls — it announced its support to Yashwant Sinha separately — TMC’s absence was attributed to its chief Mamata Banerjee being preoccupied with an “online conference” at the time the opposition leaders met. No TMC representative attended the meeting either. TMC MP Sudeep Bandopadhyay had, however, attended an all-party meeting called by the government in Parliament on Sunday morning.

“We tried to contact West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee but she was busy with some conference. We also tried to contact Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal. He announced to support a few days ago and his office told us that here, they will announce their support (for Margaret Alva) tomorrow or the day after,” Pawar said.

Jharkhand Mukti Morcha and Shiv Sena, both of which have announced their support for NDA presidential nominee Droupadi Murmu in the presidential polls, also backed Alva’s candidature in the vice-presidential polls. The parties supporting Alva are the Congress, DMK, SP, NCP, RJD, Shiv Sena, TRS, RSP, VCK, Kerala Congress (M), MDMK, IUML, CPI, CPM, JMM, RLD, and National Conference.

When asked what had led to the change of heart, Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut said, “Other parties like JMM also decided to vote differently in the presidential polls. But in this election, we are all together.”

Alva’s name, sources said, was proposed at Sunday’s meeting by CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury after both Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Pawar endorsed her candidature. When her name was proposed, some in the meeting raised apprehensions over whether she would agree, pointing to the ‘Gopal Gandhi situation’ where the opposition camp announced his name as its consensus candidate for the presidential polls only to have Gandhi decline the offer. Alva, who is learnt to have been sounded off in advance, was then dialled and informed that the group had reached a consensus over her candidature. At this point, she agreed to enter the fray as the opposition nominee.

On Twitter, Alva said, “It is a privilege and an honour to be nominated as the candidate of the joint opposition for the post of Vice President of India. I accept this nomination with great humility and thank the leaders of the opposition for the faith they’ve put in me. Jai Hind.” Alva, who was expected to arrive in Delhi on Sunday night, will file her nomination papers on Tuesday.

The NDA has a clear edge over the opposition in the VP elections, where 543 Lok Sabha and 237 Rajya Sabha MPs, including nominated members, will vote. The opposition, however, has projected both the presidential and vice-presidential elections as an ideological battle between those fighting and upholding the Indian Constitution, the BJP and the RSS, who seek to undermine it.

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