In a virtual U-turn, Shiv Sena, a key constituent of the BJP-led coalition, on Tuesday extended its support for the NDA's presidential choice Ram Nath Kovind, saying he is a "simple and decent human being."
Interestingly, Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray had Monday stated that Sena was not interested in backing Kovind if his candidature is aimed at garnering Dalit votes.
If Sena's verbal support for Kovind materialises into action, then it would be a departure from its previous stand wherein it had supported UPA nominees in presidential polls elections on at least two occasions after ditching the BJP.
Sena had supported the UPA nominee Pranab Mukherjee in the 2012 presidential polls against the NDA's P A Sangma. In 2007, it backed Pratibha Patil instead of NDA candidate Bhairon Singh Shekhawt.
"After holding discussions with our party leaders, we have decided to back the NDA presidential candidate Ram Nath Kovind. After our support, I do not think it will be difficult for the BJP to get him elected," Thackeray told reporters at his residence 'Matoshree' in suburban Bandra this evening.
When asked what made him agree to back Kovind, the Sena chief said, "We have studied his personality and found him to be a very simple and a decent human being. Thus, we decided to go ahead with his name."
The virtual climbdown came a day after Thackeray stated that "there are attempts being made to play politics over a Dalit presidential candidate. If that is so, we are not interested in backing him."
Referring to BJP president Amit Shah's visit to his residence on Sunday, Thackeray today said Shah had sought our support for their candidate, though his name was not declared then.
"In turn, I suggested him two names which he said the BJP will consider. After the BJP announced the presidential candidate, Shah once again called me and told me that the names which I had suggested were considered, but that they (BJP) had their reasons for not making them the BJP candidate," he said.
Sena had earlier proposed the names of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat and veteran agriculturist M S Swaminathan.
Responding to a question that if Sena will support the opposition parties if they field a Dalit candidate, Thackeray said his stand will not change now.
"It is not necessary that Sena will always oppose the BJP," he said.
When asked if Sena will back opposition parties if they announce the name of either Bhagwat or Swaminathan, Thackeray said, "I had announced names of Mohan Bhagwat and Swaminathan a week back. Had they wanted my support, they would have declared one of the names till now. But time has passed now and I will not change my decision."
Sena had earlier rooted for the candidature of Bhagwat on Hindutva line and later proposed the name of Swaminathan for the top post.
Bhagwat, however, didn't show any interest whereas Swaminathan chose not to react.
Thackeray had said Sena had proposed Bhagwat's name while keeping in mind the concept of 'Hindurashtra' (Hindu nation).
In the 288-member Maharashtra Assembly, the BJP has 122 MLAs and claims to have support of some more MLAs. Sena has 63 MLAs.
There are 67 members from Maharashtra in Parliament - 48 in the Lok Sabha and 19 in the Rajya Sabha.
The BJP-led NDA (including Sena) has total of 52 MPs.
Sena has 21 MPs - 18 in Lok Sabha and 3 in Rajya Sabha, while the BJP has 23 members in Lok Sabha and 5 members in Rajya Sabha from the state, that corresponds to a total value of 19,824 votes.
The Congress-led UPA has 15 MPs from the state in both the houses of Parliament. The total value of MP votes of the UPA is 10,620.
Sena had yesterday said that the party was ready to face the mid-term polls in Maharashtra.
"Hold mid-term polls if you want, we are ready...
Shivsainik is not just a burning ember, but will rise like a forest fire," he had said.