The Opposition parties met on Thursday and decided their presidential candidate. Former Lok Sabha Speaker, Meira Kumar, was chosen to counter NDA candidate Ram Nath Kovind's claim to the Raisina Hill.
Kumar's meeting with Congress president Sonia Gandhi at her residence on Wednesday sparked speculations over her candidature. According to Times of India, she was elected unopposed at the Opposition meeting, which included leaders like Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh, AK Antony, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Sharad Pawar, Sitaram Yechury, Omar Abdullah and others. Considering that the race boils down in the face-off between the two candidates and that Kovind and Kumar are both respected names from their respective parties, it will be an interesting competition on 17 July.
Kumar entered electoral politics in 1985 when she joined Congress. Her debut in politics further proves her standing as a Dalit leader, as she beat powerful Dalit leaders like Ram Vilas Paswan and Mayawati to win in Bijnor in Uttar Pradesh.
Kumar became an MP for the second time in 1996 and again in 1998 from Delhi’s Karol Bagh constituency but lost her seat in 1999 when NDA returned to power. She was re-elected in 2004 with a huge margin from Sasaram in Bihar, the constituency of her father, and became an MP for the fifth time in 2009.
In between, she had quit Congress for two years from 2000 citing 'differences' with the party leadership. She rejoined the party in 2002.
If the popularity of the two leaders is compared, Kovind, a little-known face in national political, loses out to Kumar who is a five-time Lok Sabha MP and the first woman to become the Lok Sabha Speaker. Kumar also has political legacy on her side, as her father Babu Jagjivan Ram was a former deputy prime minister and a prominent Dalit rights activist.
Kumar's father, Babu Jagjivan Ram played an active role in the freedom struggle, following which he had a political career of over five decades. He became a Legislator at 28 in the year 1936 as a nominated member of the Bihar Legislative Council. Jagjivan Ram was elected unopposed in 1946 and was inducted into the Interim Government on 2 September 1946 as the Minister of Labour. Thereafter, he remained a member of the Union Cabinet for nearly 31 years. He was in the Central Parliamentary Board from 1950 to 1977.
Kumar has also been the Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment from 2004 to 2009. In 2009, she also had a stint as a member of the cabinet as Union Minister for Water Resources, following which she went on to become the Speaker of Lok Sabha. She served as the Lok Sabha Speaker from 2009 to 2014. She became pretty popular as the speaker, especially for her polite interventions like "baith jaiye" (please have your seat).
An angle that could affect the 72-year-old leader's candidacy is her ties with the Gandhi family. Besides her political career, Kumar has also been an advocate for social reforms and human rights issues. She is married to Manjul Kumar, a lawyer, and has four children.
As a former IFS officer and the daughter of a politician, she definitely trumps Kovind's humble background. According to Hindustan Times, Kumar joined the Indian Foreign Service in 1973 and served at embassies in Spain, United Kingdom and Mauritius. A highlight of the diplomatic peg of her political career was when she served as a member of the India-Mauritius Joint Commission. She was a law graduate, which further strengthens her candidacy appeal. She also has a Masters in English literature and an advanced diploma in Spanish.
It is also interesting to note that out of her five tenures as an MP, Kumar contested three elections from Delhi, and not her father's work field and her birth place, Bihar.
As for Meira's contribution in Congress, she rose steadily from being an All India Congress Committee general secretary for two years from 1990 and again between 1996-1998. She became a member of the Congress Working Committee in 1990 and continued for ten years till 2000. After a gap of two years, she was reinducted in the CWC in 2002 and remained its member till 2004.
Leaders have already begun speculating that the Opposition is only batting for Kumar due to her Dalit status. "They (Congress) are only putting up a symbolic fight. If they only wanted to make her, they could've done during the two occasions when Congress was in power." BJP leader GVL Narasimha Rao asserted to Times Now.
The election for the next President of India is to be held on 17 July as President Pranab Mukherjee will demit the office on 24 July.
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With inputs from agencies.
Updated Date: Jun 22, 2017 20:58 PM