Leaders of 17 Opposition parties, including Congress, in a meeting held here on Wednesday decided to field a common candidate for the office of the President of India. The meeting was held in the Constitution Club here at the behest of West Bengal Chief Minister and TMC leader Mamata Banerjee to build a consensus among Opposition parties for a common candidate.

“Opposition leaders adopted a resolution to field a common candidate in the forthcoming presidential poll. A candidate who can truly serve as custodian of the Constitution and stop Modi government from doing further damage to Indian democracy and India’s social fabric,” said Sudheendra Kulkarni on behalf of the opposition parties in a statement.

However, the meeting could not zero in on a candidate after senior NCP leader Sharad Pawar refused the TMC leader’s offer to become Opposition’s presidential candidate. Pawar had the support of many parties, including his own NCP, Shiv Sena, TMC, CPI and CPM, and Congress. “I sincerely appreciate the leaders of opposition parties for suggesting my name as a candidate for the election of the President of India, at the meeting held in Delhi. However I like to state that I have humbly declined the proposal of my candidature,” tweeted Pawar after the meeting. According to sources, 81-year-old Pawar was unwilling to fight a losing battle.

Emphasizing that all important parties attended the meeting called by her, Banerjee told the reporters that the Opposition candidate would be finalised after due consultations with Pawar and other leaders. “In our country bulldozing is going on. In our democratic system all institutions are being misused politically, which is why it is required that all of us sit together more often,” Banerjee said.

The meeting set June 21 as a deadline to name a candidate for which Banerjee, Pawar and Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge have been authorised to consult with various parties and build a consensus. Presidential polls will be held on July 18 and the last date for filing nominations is June 29.

Among the other prominent leaders who participated in the two-hour-long meeting, which began at about 3 p.m., were Praful Patel and P.C. Chacko from the NCP, Kharge, Jairam Ramesh and Randeep Surjewala from the Congress, Priyanka Chaturvedi and Subhash Desai from the Shiv Sena, T.R. Baalu from the DMK, H.D. Deve Gowda and HD Kumaraswamy from the JD(S), Manoj Jha from the RJD, Mehbooba Mufti from the PDP, Omar Abdullah from National Conference, N.K. Premachandran from the RSP, Binoy Viswam from the CPI. SP leader Akhilesh Yadav also participated in the meeting.

Banerjee had invited 22 parties for the meeting, but with Telangana Rashtra Samithi, Aam Aadmi Party, Shriomani Akali Dal, and Biju Janata Dal opting out chinks in the opposition ranks were apparent. BSP, TDP, YSRP and AIMIM were reportedly not invited by Banerjee.

Before the meeting, Banerjee had a short conversation with Congress leaders, Kharge, Surjewala and Ramesh, gave a hug to Akhilesh Yadav, and a moment later convinced Mehbooba Mufti to pose for a photo-op.