Former West Bengal Governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi, a grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, was on Tuesday named the opposition candidate for the post of Vice President by the Congress and 17 other parties, including the JD-U, which is backing the BJP candidate in the President's election.
Setting the stage for a contest with BJP-led NDA, which is expected to announce its nominee soon, Congress President Sonia Gandhi announced the name of Gandhi, a former Indian envoy to South Africa and Sri Lanka, at a meeting of the opposition parties at Parliament Library Building chaired by her.
"Gopalkrishna Gandhi is the opposition candidate for the Vice Presidential election. We have spoken to him and he has agreed to be the opposition candidate," she said with JD-U leader Sharad Yadav seated on her left. The JD-U had broken ranks with the opposition and chosen to back Ram Nath Kovind, the NDA candidate, in the Presidential election.
Gopalkrishna Gandhi's name was proposed at the meeting by the Trinamool Congress and backed by all the parties present. No other name was discussed, opposition leaders said.
The declaration of the name of Gandhi, a Secretary to then President R Venkataraman, has set the stage for the contest for the Vice President's office on August 5.
Gandhi, who belonged to the IAS, was the Indian High Commissioner to South Africa and Sri Lanka.
Earlier, Gandhi's name did the rounds as the opposition candidate in the Presidential election. But the BJP's choice of Ram Nath Kovind, a Dalit candidate, forced the Congress-led grouping to pick former Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar, also a Dalit.
The last date for filing of nomination for the Vice President's post is July 18. The scrutiny of the papers will take place on July 19. The last date for withdrawal of nominations is July 21.
Hamid Ansari has been the Vice President and ex-officio Chairman of the Rajya Sabha since August 11, 2007. He won a second term on August 11, 2012. His current term ends on August 10.
During Tuesday's meeting, which lasted about 90 minutes, opposition leaders observed two minutes silence in memory of the seven Amarnath pilgrims killed in a terror attack on Monday. They passed a resolution asking the government to introspect its failure to prevent the attack despite intelligence inputs.
The opposition parties also discussed the alleged victimisation of political opponents by the BJP-led government, suicides by farmers, demonetisation and the fallout of Goods and Services Tax. The parties agreed to meet once a month to coordinate their strategy against the government.
Trinamool leader Derek O'Brien alleged that government agenies were being used to target opposition parties including the Rashtriya Janata Dal, Congress and Aam Aadmi Party.
"There was broad agreement on the issues. The opposition parties will not only coordinate inside and outside Parliament but on other platforms also, specially social media where a lot of vile is being spread," he said.
O'Brien said the decision on Gopalkrishna Gandhi's name did not take more than 15 minutes as background work had already been done.
He said the Trinamool Congress was asked to speak first and "we proposed the name of Gopalkrishna Gandhi. Only one name was proposed. Only one name was endorsed".
Among those who supported the candidature was CPI-M leader Sitaram Yechury.
Apart from the Trinamool Congress and CPI-M, who are rivals in West Bengal, the meeting was attended by Uttar Pradesh rivals Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party.
A Congress leader said that after being sounded out by the opposition, Gopalkrishna Gandhi told them that he would need about 15 minutes to confirm. He said Gopalkrishna Gandhi was in middle of a lecture when a call was made to him.
"Apparently, he wanted to consult his family. He also wanted to be sure that all the opposition parties present were supporting him," the Congress leader said.
He said the opposition parties had announced their Vice Presidential candidate ahead of the NDA to seize the initiative.
O'Brien ruled out the possibility of the JD-U changing its stance, saying the party had signed on the nomination form proposing Gandhi's name.
Among those present at the meeting were former Prime Ministers Manmohan Singh and H.D. Deve Gowdam (JD-S), Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi, Praful Patel and Tariq Anwar (NCP), Sharad Yadav(JD-U), Satish Chandra Misra (BSP), Naresh Agrawal (Samajwadi Party), Jai Prakash Narayan Yadav (RJD), Omar Abdullah (National Conference), T.K.S. Elangovan (DMK), Ajit Singh (RLD), Sudhakar Reddy and D. Raja (CPI), K. Jose Mani (Kerala Cong-M), Hemant Soren (JMM), N.K. Premachandran (RSP), P.K. Kunhalikutty (IUML) and Badrudin Ajmal (AIUDF).