After a crucial meeting of opposition parties to decide on a joint strategy for the presidential election was held on Thursday attended by leaders of 17 parties, former Lok Sabha speaker Meira Kumar has been chosen by the Opposition as their candidate for the Presidential Election.

Prominent among those who attended the meeting held in the Parliament House Library were Congress president Sonia Gandhi, former prime minister Manmohan Singh and senior party leaders Ghulam Nabi Azad, Mallikarjun Kharge and Ahmed Patel, besides NCP's Sharad Pawar and RJD's Lalu Prasad.

Kumar, a former diplomat and daughter of the late Dalit icon Jagjivan Ram, was the unanimous choice of the 17 opposition parties that attended the meeting. With Kovind also being a Dalit, this makes it a Dalit vs Dalit presidential contest.

"We have decided to field the name of Meira Kumar for the presidential election... We do hope that other parties also join us," Congress president Sonia Gandhi said.

Left leaders Sitaram Yechury and D Raja, DMK's Kanimozhi and National Conference's Omar Abdullah also attended the meeting. Though Trinamool Congress' Mamata Banerjee, BSP's Mayawati and SP's Akhilesh Yadav, who were present at the last opposition meeting held on May 26, were missing, their representatives were there. While Derek O' Brien represented the Trinamool, the SP sent Ramgopal Yadav and the BSP Satish Mishra.

Other parties represented at the meeting included JD-S, RSP, JMM, Kerala Congress, IUML and the AIUDF of Assam. JD-U, which has decided to back BJP's presidential nominee Ram Nath Kovind, skipped today's meeting. But RLD chief Ajit Singh attended, making up the numbers.

Most of these leaders were present during the May 26 luncheon meeting hosted by Sonia Gandhi at the same venue. 

Today's meeting was preceded by hectic parleys between leaders of non-NDA parties since morning. The Congress has stepped up its efforts to keep the opposition united as its top brass held discussions with the leaders of a host of other parties after the JD-U's decision.

Cracks had appeared in the opposition camp after the JD- U's surprise decision, as its chief Nitish Kumar was the one who had initiated the process for a joint opposition strategy on the issue. Sources said a contest for the country's top constitutional post is on the cards as the majority in the opposition sees it an "ideological battle" that has to fought.

Efforts were on to ensure that the NCP did not stray, as the Sharad Pawar-led party held internal discussions to decide on its strategy for the presidential election. By naming Kovind, a Dalit, the NDA has put the opposition camp in a fix as it had been forced to think of a suitable Dalit candidate to oppose Kovind so as not to be branded "anti-Dalit" by the ruling dispensation.

Other names in the fray were Gopalkrishna Gandhi and Prakash Ambedkar, but other parties, including the Congress, are believed to have put their weight behind Meira Kumar.

Kumar yesterday met Sonia Gandhi along with other senior party leaders, fuelling speculation that the party was willing to support her candidature.