- Opposition will wait to see government's choice of Presidential candidate
- No names were discussed at Sonia Gandhi's lunch party, said Ms Banerjee
- PM Modi has begun consultations on government's nominee for President
A joint opposition candidate for President to take on the ruling BJP's nominee was high on the agenda at the two-hour lunch. Mamata Banerjee added a twist last evening by suggesting that all parties, in the government and opposition, support a consensus candidate. She had just met Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
At lunch today, the opposition parties agreed that the onus of ensuring a candidate for President who is acceptable to all is on the government. "The normal practice is for the ruling party to build a consensus for the posts of president and Vice President but if there is no consensus candidate we will put up a candidate who will uphold the Constitution," said senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad.
"Even when Atalji (former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee of the BJP) was there, there were always talks with the Opposition. Anybody can talk to anybody," Mamata Banerjee said, adding that no names were discussed at Mrs Gandhi's lunch party. A small committee of opposition leaders, she said, would decide on their candidate if it came to an election.
Another guest, Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati said the presidential elections were discussed, as was the performance of PM Modi's government in three years. "They are counting their achievements but Dalits, the weaker sections, religious minorities and poor farmers are in a bad state," said Ms Mayawati, who was recently trounced by the BJP in assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh.
The parties agreed on a joint statement criticising the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government on what they called its "failures."
PM Modi has begun consultations in his party and with allies on their nominee for President. He has already bridged the three per cent odd gap between the NDA's support in the electoral college and the 51 per cent needed for its candidate to win, with regional parties like the YSR Congress and AIADMK promising support.
The opposition has a small list of probables like Janata Dal (United) leader Sharad Yadav, former West Bengal Governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi and former Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar.