Presidential nominee Yashwant Sinha on Monday said he would reach out to his former colleagues in the BJP to seek their support and expressed confidence that the Opposition unity seen on his candidature would continue till the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.
Addressing a press conference here after filing his nomination, Mr Sinha described the candidature of his rival NDA nominee Droupadi Murmu, a tribal, as part of "politics of symbolism" and insisted that he would contest the poll on the track record of the central government with regard to the welfare of backward communities.
Mr Sinha said he would launch his campaign from Kerala on Tuesday and cover Tamil Nadu on Wednesday, after which he would travel to Gujarat, Telangana and Karnataka.
He said the July 18 presidential election is not a contest between two individuals or identities, but a fight between two ideologies. The presidential election is a battle between the ideology of absolute power and that of freedom, he said, adding that this is a fight for protecting and safeguarding the values and principles of democracy.
"It's a battle of two ideologies and most of the Opposition parties have come together in this election to wage this battle and it's not going to stop here. I am confident they will remain together and carry the fight forward. We are confident we alone will succeed in the end because truth is on our side and we are not resorting to any wrong measure," he told reporters.
Noting that this Opposition unity is just a beginning, he said, "I am confident that this unity among Opposition parties (we are) witnessing today will continue. The division in the Opposition from which the BJP benefitted will not be there in 2024." Mr Sinha, whose candidature is backed by 17 Opposition parties, said he would talk to other non-aligned regional parties the JDS and the JMM, who were present in the meeting that decided on his nomination.
He claimed that he has the backing of AIMIM as its leader Asaduddin Owaisi has assured him support after he talked to him.
Parties whose leaders were present during the nomination filing included the Congress, NCP, SP, TMC, RJD, CPI, CPI-M, Shiv Sena, DMK, NC, TRS, RSP, VCK, AIUDF, RLD and the IUML.
A campaign committee comprising Jairam Ramesh, Tiruchi Siva, Sukhendu Sekhar Ray, Sitaram Yechury, D Raja, Ramgopal Yadav, Praful Patel, Ranjit Reddy, Manoj Jha and Sudheendra Kulkarni has been formed to steer his campaign.
Mr Sinha questioned the track record of the Modi government with regard to the welfare of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.
"The current President also belongs to a particular community. Does it mean that the community has benefited," Mr Sinha asked, referring to Ram Nath Kovind, a Dalit.
The Opposition's presidential candidate said only such a person should go to President's House who can take independent decisions.
"If someone who is under captivity of the government, the person occupying the position would not have the courage to fulfil the responsibilities of President and the post would become meaningless. Often Presidents have become rubber stamps and have not fulfilled their constitutional responsibilities," he said.
Mr Sinha said Parliament has been paralysed and its Standing Committees are not functioning the way they should, even as laws are passed without their scrutiny.
"Parliament's prestige will not be enhanced by building a new building, but by following parliamentary practices," he noted.
He also alleged that "demonetisation was the biggest scam of this century as all black money was turned into white and we were forced to forget this".
Mr Sinha felt citizens must have a recourse and if there is a grievance there should be hearing.
"Democracy will die when recourse exhausts. There is no recourse anywhere, including in the judiciary, for people," he noted, asking how many cases are pending and what happened to Article 370 hearing as it never began.
He said when citizens are not left with recourse, chaos is fomented in society and people take to the streets.
Noting that democracy in India has been disabled and institutions compromised, the former Union minister said the government is misusing its agencies against not just criminals but also political opponents.
"We have never witnessed such a spectre. Never were major leaders asked to do up and down, questions being asked for 50 hours. The intention of the government is not to probe political leaders. The intention is to humiliate, to show people how they are going from office to office. This is unfortunate," he said.
Yashwant Sinha hit out at the BJP saying that the saffron party under Prime Minister Narendra Modi lacked internal democracy. "The BJP I was part of had internal democracy, but the current BJP lacks internal democracy," he said.
He said he would reach out to his former colleagues in the BJP to seek their support.
Mr Sinha served as finance minister and external affairs minister in the government led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee. He had resigned from the BJP in 2018 and joined the Trinamool Congress in 2021. He quit the Trinamool Congress before his candidature was announced on June 21.
He said he had reached out to Prime Minister Modi and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh for support. He also accused the government of not trying to build a consensus for the highest constitutional post of the country.
He said this election is a fight for protecting, saving and safeguarding democracy. "Will fight till the last drop of my blood...So considerations like who is my opponent, how many votes I get, do not matter," he said.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)