Friday, June 14, 2002, Chandigarh, India

National Capital Region--Delhi


M A I N   N E W S

Congress falls into line on Abdul Kalam
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, June 13
The Congress today finally decided to support the candidature of noted scientist A.P.J. Abdul Kalam for the post of President, saying that the decision had been taken in view of the “totality of circumstances including the merit of the candidate.”

“The Congress, after extensive consultations, has decided to support the candidature of Dr Abdul Kalam for the high office of Rashtrapati of India,’’ said a party statement issued today.

The Congress decision to back the NDA candidate in the presidential poll came after hectic consultations party chief Sonia Gandhi had over the past two days with senior leaders, including Congress Working Committee members and party Chief Ministers. The Congress leaders were also in touch with Left parties which have decided to oppose the NDA nominee.

The decision to support Dr Kalam was announced this afternoon after senior Congress leaders, Manmohan Singh and Natwar Singh met CPM leader Harkishen Singh Surjeet to convey the Congress stand.

AICC sources said the Congress was compelled to back Dr Kalam because it was aware of the inevitable defeat of any Opposition candidate put up against Dr Kalam. While some Delhi-based AICC leaders were open to the idea of a contest, almost all Congress Chief Ministers unambiguously told Mrs Gandhi that the party should back Dr Kalam who enjoyed tremendous popular goodwill.

The Congress also did not want to be seen as pushing Dr Kalam into the BJP’s lap by putting up a candidate against him. Besides being from the largest minority community, Dr Kalam has had no known ideological inclination to which the Congress might have objected. “He does not have a pro-BJP image,” a senior Congress leader explained. “There was an overwhelming opinion in the Congress on not opposing Dr Kalam. His candidature had positive appeal to the pro-Congress constituency,” he said.

Congress chief spokesman Jaipal Reddy denied that the party’s decision to back Dr Kalam had strained its relations with the Left. “Our relations with the Left are ideologically oriented and will remain so,” he said, adding that no names of prospective Opposition candidates were discussed with the Left parties by the Congress.

Mr Reddy stoutly defended the two days the Congress took to decide on backing Dr Kalam after the NDA’s choice was conveyed to Mrs Gandhi by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee on June 10 evening.

He said since President K.R. Narayanan was the party’s first choice, it had to get a final word from him about his intentions to contest the poll. The spokesman said after obtaining the views of Mr Narayanan, the Congress took only a day to take a decision which was independent of the Left parties. Congress leaders also hinted that had Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav not walked out of the People’s Front to back Dr Kalam, Mr Narayanan might have agreed to become the Opposition candidate.

One reason of consolation for the Congress is that Dr Kalam is not the BJP’s or the NDA’s first choice. "We made known our reservations on the name of Mr P.C. Alexander and the NDA was forced to withdraw his name,” a CWC member said. The Congress, he said, was open to the idea of backing Vice-President Krishan Kant, but the NDA withdrew his name during the informal consultations between BJP and Congress leaders. “The name of Dr Kalam has emerged as a result of political churning. He was not among the first choices of the NDA. The Congress, he emphasised, had not said anything against the candidature of Dr Kalam.

The Congress decision has virtually set the seal on Dr Kalam becoming the country’s next President.

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