The Opposition seems to have learnt its lesson and has wasted no time in choosing Gopalkrishna Gandhi as the Vice-Presidential candidate for the upcoming elections in India on 5th August. Through his candidature, Congress is trying to hold the opposition alliance together. Gandhi seems to symbolise the union of the Gandhi and Nehru family and has been able to secure the confidence of all players in the Opposition.
Who is Gopalkrishna Gandhi?
Gopalkrishna Gandhi, the 72-year old former bureaucrat, describes himself as a “citizen’s candidate”. He is currently a professor at Ashoka University, Sonepat. Grandson of Mahatma Gandhi and C. Rajagopalachari, Gopalkrishna Gandhi has served as Governor to West Bengal and as India’s envoy to South Africa, Sri Lanka and Norway.
He is known for standing up for his beliefs. He criticised the then ruling Buddhadeb Bhattacharya’s Communist Party of India (Marxist) government over the Nandigram police firing incident, and has been writing extensively about the Modi government.
BJP’s power of narrative
The upcoming Presidential election has turned out to be a “Dalit versus Dalit” standoff. Both Ram Nath Kovind and Meira Kumar are exploiting their Dalit identity. Interestingly, Gandhi’s illustrious lineage also seems to be of use now.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has won the game of portraying an image or narrative for the nation to follow. It has cleverly used Mahatma Gandhi as a tool in its ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’ and believes that the Congress has not respected him enough. Thus, Gopalkrishna Gandhi’s nomination seems to be a loud assertion by the Congress that it can value the historical legacy of the party.
The Congress’ balancing acts
The promptness with which the Vice-Presidential candidate was declared by the opposition also attains some significance. The opposition met as a unified front at a meeting in New Delhi, headed by Sonia Gandhi, chairperson of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA). Gopalkrishna Gandhi was the only name suggested for the seat. He was being discussed as a Presidential candidate and had gained the support of Nitish Kumar (the Chief Minister of Bihar and leader of the JD(U)), Sitaram Yechury (CPI(M)) and Mamata Banerjee (Trinamool Congress). In spite of this, Meira Kumar was chosen over him.
The urgency with which Sonia Gandhi called the meeting signals the realisation of the need for a strong opposition. Nitish Kumar has often broken away from the Opposition to support the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in policies like demonetization and Goods and Services Tax (GST). He has offered support to Kovind as NDA’s presidential candidate. This urgency within the Opposition shows the desperation of the Congress to keep Bihar on its side, as it remains the only non-saffron state in the Hindi-heartland of India.
The political importance of Bihar
Nitish Kumar’s declaration of support for Kovind had caused much opposition from Sonia Gandhi. However, in his defence, last month, Kumar is alleged to have declared that he would wholeheartedly support Gandhi. Kumar’s position is critical at the moment. Modi had failed to defeat the JD(U) (Janata Dal (United)) alliance in the 2015 state elections. Thus, Bihar remains indifferent to BJP’s presence. To counter this, the BJP has allegedly been filing innumerable lawsuits against Nitish Kumar and his family to weaken the JD(U).
At this juncture, Kumar holds the key to control Bihar and seems irritated by the Congress, which is weak in both number and influence. Though the Congress has extended an olive branch to Kumar, it seems that only sustained and decisive leadership can make Kumar stay in the opposition. Thus, the upcoming election sees Nitish Kumar as a big player who is making tables turn with his decisions.
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