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New Delhi: The opposition on Thursday signalled it will not go down without a fight, fielding former Lok Sabha speaker Meira Kumar to challenge the National Democratic Alliance’s nominee Ram Nath Kovind in the upcoming presidential elections.

With this the stage is set for another government-opposition face-off. India’s electoral college will vote for a new President on 17 July, results of which will be announced on 20 July.

The announcement of Kumar’s name was made after a crucial meeting of 17 opposition parties led by Congress president Sonia Gandhi. The move is significant because Kumar is not only a senior Dalit leader from the Congress, but also a native of Bihar and daughter of freedom fighter Jagjivan Ram.

Although, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has the required numbers as of now, opposition’s naming of Kumar could be seen as an attempt to put up a symbolic contest against the government.

“We have decided to field the name of Meira Kumar for the presidential election... We do hope that other parties also join us," Gandhi said.

“All the 17 political parties met here today and have unanimously proposed the name of Meira Kumar for the upcoming presidential polls... Everyone knows about Kumar and there could be a no better candidate for the post," Ghulam Nabi Azad, leader of opposition in Rajya Sabha, told reporters after a joint press conference of opposition parties.

Accepting the opposition’s proposal, Meira Kumar told reporters: “I am going to contest the elections on the basis of a strong ideological belief... I will ask my colleagues to take a decision in the best interests of the country."

The development comes a day after Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar-led Janata Dal (United), or JD (U), broke ranks with the opposition and announced support for Kovind.

Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief Lalu Prasad reached out to Nitish Kumar, whose party skipped the opposition meet on Thursday, and appealed to him to rethink a “historic" mistake.

“Meira Kumar is a daughter of Bihar... I appeal to Nitish Kumar, I will meet him and tell him to rethink this historic mistake. I will keep on appealing to him to rethink his decision," Prasad, an ally of JD(U) in Bihar, told reporters after the meeting.

The move could put Nitish Kumar in a spot because both his allies— the Congress and the RJD—are supporting Kumar who has her roots in Bihar.

“We have decided to support Ram Nath Kovind after taking everything into consideration. Political decisions are not changed in minutes and seconds," K.C. Tyagi, senior JD (U) leader told reporters after opposition’s announcement.

Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati, who had earlier welcomed Kovind’s candidature, is now shifting allegiance to Kumar.

“By fielding Kumar, the opposition has literally walked into the BJP’s trap of splitting Dalits between Chamars and non-Chamars in the Hindi heartland. Opposition’s choice is bound to create bitterness among Dalits on this ground," said Chandra Bhan Prasad, a writer and Dalit thinker.

“Meira Kumar has an impressive history and has served as a Lok Sabha speaker but eventually Kovind will win easily. The question is at what cost is this happening? Why do presidential elections have to be Dalit vs Dalit and Chamars vs non-Chamars?" Chandra Bhan Prasad added.

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