MUMBAI — Virtually accusing the Bharatiya Janata Party of playing Dalit vote-bank politics, the Shiv Sena June 19 said it would not support Ram Nath Kovind if he had been nominated merely to win Dalit votes.
"If they have declared Kovind's name for getting Dalit votes, then we are not interested. The Shiv Sena has always kept away from such vote-bank politics," said Uddhav Thackeray at a rally to mark the party's 51st foundation day celebrations.
He added that if the next president proves to be beneficial for all of India and not just Dalits, "then make anybody. We will openly support."
However, he said a final decision on the BJP candidate would be made at a meeting of party leaders scheduled to take place June 20 in Mumbai.
Thackeray also mentioned party favorites RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat and agro-scientist M. S. Swaminathan, saying that said Bhagwat was proposed because India is a Hindu nation and that the country lost a good opportunity by ignoring him.
"If anybody had reservations about Bhagwat, then we suggested Swaminathan for the benefit of the farmers of the country. We are always standing solidly behind the farming community," said Thackeray.
Earlier June 19 afternoon, Sena MP Sanjay Raut said BJP President Amit Shah called Thackeray only after announcing Kovind as its candidate for the July 17 election, indicating that the party was not taken into confidence beforehand.
"Shah informed him about the BJP choice and also sought the Shiv Sena's support for Kovind's candidature," Raut said.
Thackeray told Shah June 18 that the Shiv Sena – the BJP’s oldest and most prominent ally – would make a decision only after the BJP's presidential nominee was named.
On two previous occasions, the Shiv Sena has parted the with National Democratic Alliance and supported United Progressive Alliance candidates: in 2007 when Pratibha Patil won the election and in 2012 when incumbent Pranab Mukherjee was elected.
On the first occasion, then-Sena leader Bal Thackeray suppported Patil because she was the first Maharashtrian and woman to occupy the top constitutional post.
Patil defeated NDA candidate and Vice President B.S. Shekhawat.
In 2012, Mukherjee personally called and later met Thackeray, and solicited his support. The Sena chief agreed, contradicting the BJP, which supported NDA candidate P.A. Sangma.
The Sena’s stance on Kovind's candidature in the upcoming election will be considered crucial as the party is a BJP partner both at the center and in Maharashtra.