The Bharatiya Janata Party on Monday announced that Bihar Governor Ram Nath Kovind would be their candidate for president, reported ANI. He was former president of the BJP Dalit Morcha.

Earlier in the day, the BJP had held a Parliamentary Board meeting to decide its candidate for the 2017 Presidential elections. The meeting was held at the party headquarters in New Delhi, and chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Union Ministers Rajnath Singh, Arun Jaitley, Venkaiah Naidu, Sushma Swaraj and Nitin Gadkari were among those present at the meeting. BJP President Amit Shah said after the meeting that Kovind would be the NDA candidate.

Shah also said that Congress President Sonia Gandhi had told him that her party would discuss Kovind’s name before making a decision, reported ANI. Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was one of the first politicians informed about the decision, Amit Shah said according to NDTV. However, he refused to comment on how many contenders had been reviewed before Kovind’s name was finalised.

If Kovind is elected President, he will be the second Dalit leader to reach the post, after former President KR Narayanan. Kovind, 71, has been a Supreme Court lawyer and was president of the BJP’s SC/ST Morcha from 1998 to 2002, The Telegraph had reported in 2015.

The Presidential election will be held on July 17, and current President Pranab Mukherjee finishes his term on July 24.

The Opposition had said they would announce their candidates only after the ruling party had picked theirs. However, several leaders are expected to support the BJP candidate.

Political parties react

Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad said the party would not comment on the BJP’s presidential candidate announcement as the party had assured them of informing him before making any declarations, ANI reported. Janata Dal (United) party leader Sharad Yadav said Opposition parties would meet to discuss the development soon. They are expected to meet on Thursday, June 22.

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath called on all political parties in the state to “rise above politics” and to support the “son of UP”. Union Minister and Lok Janshakti Party President Ram Vilas Paswan said, “Everyone should support his [Kovind’s] candidature. Those who do not will be considered as anti-Dalit.”

Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu said his Telugu Desam Party will offer full support to BJP’s presidential candidate. Telangana Chief Minister KC Rao too expressed his support towards Kovind’s candidature.

Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut said BJP President Amit Shah had informed Uddhav Thackeray about their selection. “Our party will decide on support in a few days,” Raut said.

Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati said she will support Kovind if the Opposition does not name a more popular Dalit leader. “As he is a Dalit we are positive on his name, but only if oppn doesn’t announce a popular dalit name,” said Mayawati, adding that it would have been better if the NDA had named a “non-political Dalit”.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Kovind was a farmer’s son “who comes from a humble background”. “He devoted his life to public service and worked for the poor the marginalised,” Modi said on Twitter. “With his illustrious background in the legal arena, Kovind’s knowledge and understanding of the Constitution will benefit the nation,” Modi said.

“I am sure Ram Nath Kovind will make an exceptional president and continue to be a strong voice for the poor, downtrodden and marginalised,” the prime minister posted.