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Amid parleys over joint President nominee, Nitish Kumar backs Pranab for 2nd term

The main opposition Congress, however, remained non-committal on backing Mukherjee, saying "It is for the ruling party to decide".

Amid parleys over joint President nominee, Nitish Kumar backs Pranab for 2nd term

Patna/New Delhi: Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar on Monday pitched for building a consensus on the next president, suggesting that the BJP should initiate talks with political parties and favouring a second term for Pranab Mukherjee.

The main opposition Congress, however, remained non- committal on backing Mukherjee, saying "It is for the ruling party to decide".

Kumar, also the JD(U) president, said re-election of Mukherjee by consensus will set a good precedent, but added it was for the ruling party at the Centre to decide on the candidate after taking on board "all parties".

"The president represents the entire country and its people and as such the ruling party at the Centre should take an initiative to seek a consensus on selection of candidate for the top constitutional post after holding talks with all opposition parties," he told reporters on the sidelines of 'Lok Samvad' programme in Patna.

"I am not saying it is the duty of the ruling party at the Centre to seek consensus on the presidential candidate, but it should take the initiative in this regard as the president's post represents entire country and the people," Kumar said.

However, if the ruling party does not go for consensus, it is the opposition's duty to put up a joint candidate for the president's post, he said.

Several opposition parties, including the Congress and the Left, have been holding parleys to explore the possibility of fielding a joint presidential candidate with "secular credentials". Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee are likely meeting in the national capital tomorrow to discuss the issue.

Banerjee arrived in the national capital this evening and is also likely to hold discussions with Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal.

At the AICC briefing, Congress spokesperson Shobha Oza said she was confident about a consensus emerging among opposition parties to field a joint candidate.

When asked about Nitish Kumar's suggestion, she said, "That is for the ruling party to decide. I will not decide on their behalf...At this stage, I cannot say or comment anything."

"When he (Kumar) puts forth the recommendation, various parties will decide," she said.

The Congress leader said, "As far as a united opposition is concerned, there will be many recommendations and there have to be deliberations on it."

Sources in the CPI-M said the possibility of the opposition backing Pranab Mukherjee for another term depended on whether the ruling side and its political rivals were on the same page.

"Besides, Mukherjee should also agree to it," a senior CPI-M leader said.

"A united opposition is making efforts for a consensus. There is still time and efforts are continuing. A lot of recommendations have come and a united opposition will finalise a candidate," Oza said.

The Presidential election is due in July.

Sources said the names of former West Bengal governor Gopal Krishna Gandhi, former Lok Sabha speaker Meira Kumar, NCP chief Sharad Pawar and JD(U) veteran Sharad Yadav are doing the rounds as possible joint opposition candidate.

The CPI said it had no objection to Banerjee meeting Gandhi and favoured a consensus opposition candidate to take on the ruling dispensation's nominee.

"Naturally, we need the support of all opposition parties, we need votes. There will be a common (opposition) candidate, it is not that we are putting up a Left candidate for the presidential polls," CPI sources said. The party favoured Gopal Gandhi, a former bureaucrat and grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, for the job.

Meanwhile, West Bengal Congress chief Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury has written to Sonia Gandhi voicing his displeasure over her proposed meeting with Mamata Banerjee, apparently to discuss the strategy for the presidential election.

In a two page letter to Gandhi, he said, "I understand that the CM (Mamata) will be meeting you to discuss strategy for the presidential election. It is important to rope in support of all political parties to oppose an RSS-BJP nominee. At the same time, it is necessary to emphasise our abiding commitment to democracy and transparency."

Chowdhury said Congress' leadership in Delhi should be careful while dealing with Banerjee because most Trinamool Congress leaders were under the scanner of law enforcement and investigative agencies in Narada bribery scandal and Saradha chit fund case.