Not Backing 'Bihar's Daughter' A 'Historic Blunder': Lalu Yadav To Nitish Kumar

India has only had one Dalit president so far, KR Narayanan, who served from 1997 to 2002.

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Nitish Kumar yesterday said that he would back Ram Nath Kovind of the BJP for President.

New Delhi: 

Highlights

  1. Opposition picks Dalit leader and ex-Speaker Meira Kumar for President
  2. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is backing rival BJP's candidate
  3. Reconsider, back "daughter of Bihar' urges Lalu Yadav, who is his ally
After announcing that Meira Kumar, a Dalit woman and former Lok Sabha Speaker, will be its candidate for President of India, the opposition made its next big move: it asked Nitish Kumar, Bihar Chief Minister, to return to the fold.

"We will meet Nitish Kumar and will appeal to him to support Bihar's daughter," said Lalu Yadav, helpfully underlining the origins of the opposition's nominee.

Lalu Yadav is Mr Kumar's partner in running the Bihar government. Yesterday, Mr Kumar said that unlike the rest of the opposition, his party will vote for the BJP's candidate, Ram Nath Kovind.

"We will tell him it is a historic blunder," said Lalu, because "this is a fight of ideologies". He added that he is not upset with Mr Kumar about marching out of the 17-member opposition front formed to combat the election for President and that the perception of their alliance being imperiled are off the mark. "We will not bring down the government," he said. 

Mr Kumar's party was unmoved. 

"We have applied our mind, and will stick to Kovind," said Pawan Verma, a senior leader of the Janata Dal United. 

The fight for President is symbolic. The BJP and its allies have won the commitment of enough regional parties to have Mr Kovind elected. But the opposition wants to check the feasibility of integrating as a team for the 2019 general election, and in selecting Meira Kumar it wants to demonstrate it can match wits with the BJP. The choice enabled leaders like Sharad Pawar and Mayawati to remain with the non-BJP front.

Mr Kovind, 71, is a Dalit, which is why Mr Kumar, so dependent on the caste in Bihar, is backing him. Meira Kumar, 72, is a former union minister, the country's first woman speaker, and the daughter of Jagjivan Ram, a national leader and freedom fighter from Bihar.

It's not as if Mr Kumar was not aware of the likelihood of her being the opposition's contender. Sources say he considered carefully the merits of each candidate. Meira Kumar is a Jatav Dalit, a sub-caste of Dalits loyal to Mayawati. Mr Kovind is a non-Jatav Dalit, and the BJP made huge inroads with this community in the recent Uttar Pradesh election. The Bihar Chief Minister feels he has done so much for Dalits- including expanding the category to include more beneficiary groups of welfare schemes that he enlarged- that he will feel no whiplash for his decision to endorse Mr Kovind over Meira Kumar despite her Bihar connect.

He is also, aides said, determined to be on the winning side.

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That means this election could be just the start of a rebooted relationship with the BJP, with whom he ended a 17-year alliance in 2013 over its decision to name Narendra Modi as its Prime Ministerial candidate. 

Lalu is wary of signs that indicate Mr Kumar's pivoting. His children - two of whom are ministers in the Bihar government - are named in a series of corruption cases. He would like to fight those with the weight of political power, which is why he said today, "I will appeal to him again and again" to change his mind.

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