Ram Nath Kovind is the BJP's nominee for the presidential elections. Photograph: (Twitter)
The Shiv Sena, a key constituent of the BJP-led coalition, on Tuesday said it would back the BJP's presidential nominee Ram Nath Kovind, saying he is a "simple and decent human being."
"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."
Questioning the BJP's motive behind Kovind's nomination, Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray had yesterday said his party would not back the former Bihar Governor in case his candidature was aimed at garnering Dalit votes.
Uddhav Thackeray had said 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."
The Sena's verbal support for Kovind is a departure from its previous practice of supported UPA nominees in presidential elections after ditching the BJP.
The party had supported the UPA nominee Pranab Mukherjee in the 2012 presidential polls against the NDA's PA Sangma. In 2007, it backed Pratibha Patil instead of NDA candidate Bhairon Singh Shekhawat.
BJP president Amit Shah had visited Uddhav Thackeray at his residence on Sunday. The Shiv Sena president revealed that Amit Shah had sought the party's 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.
Asked if the Shiv Sena would support the opposition parties if they fielded a Dalit candidate, Uddhav 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 announced 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."
Uddhav Thackeray had said the Sena had proposed Bhagwat's name, keeping in mind the concept of 'Hindurashtra' (Hindu nation).
Bhagwat, however, didn't show any interest whereas Swaminathan chose not to react.
In the 288-member Maharashtra Assembly, the BJP has the support of 122 MLAs and claims to have the support of some more legislators.
The Shiv 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 has a total of 52 MPs. The Shiv Sena has 21 MPs - 18 in the Lok Sabha and three in the Rajya Sabha.
The BJP has 23 members in the Lok Sabha and five 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.
Shiv 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.