Saturday, June 15, 2002, Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Left fields Lakshmi Sahgal
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, June 14
The intense speculation and political suspense over the Left parties’ choice of a presidential candidate ended this afternoon after they announced the name of Padma Vibhushan Lakshmi Sahgal, a well-known freedom fighter and social activist.

Announcing their decision to field Capt Sahgal, the first woman candidate for the country’s highest constitutional post, CPM General Secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet justified the choice saying: “This is a very important election. The country is passing through a very critical phase. Borders are being guarded by the Army. The communal situation is grim. The country needs a President who can keep it united and steer it out of the present grave situation.”

The crucial decision to field Capt Sahgal, who led the Rani Jhansi Regiment of the Indian National Army, was taken unanimously at a meeting of leaders of the Left parties today.

The leaders said former Prime Ministers H.D. Deve Godwa and V.P. Singh had endorsed Capt Sahgal’s candidature. They said the decision was delayed as they wanted to get the consent of Mr V.P. Singh (at present under medication in the USA).

To a question, the leaders said the Kanpur-based octogenarian had been receptive to the aforesaid proposal. “Capt Sahgal has given her consent and has indicated her willingness to fight a political battle.”

Reiterating that the Left parties were united, CPI General Secretary A.B. Bardhan said, “At a time when the NDA thought that it can go on splitting the Opposition, we, the Communist parties, wanted to demonstrate that as far as the Left is concerned, we are united. We discussed the question from all angles and we decided that there has to be a political fight not just between two individuals but a political contest.”

Spelling out reasons for deciding on Capt Sahgal’s candidature, Mr Bardhan said, “She was also the first woman Cabinet Minister in the Azad Hind government of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. She comes from an illustrious family. One should remember that she is the daughter of Ammu Swaminadhan, the first woman member of Parliament. At the age of 87, she still carries on her job from the slums of Kanpur.”

Mr Bardhan also referred to Capt Sahgal’s work in the area of gender equality and human rights. In a diplomatic reference to Dr Kalam’s much talked about apolitical merits, Mr Bardhan mildly questioned the NDA’s choice of fielding him for the post of President.

Referring to the Prime Minister’s slogan of “Jai jawan, jai kisan and jai vigyan”, Mr Bardhan said somebody who should be doing work in the field of science was being employed to do something else. Drawing a comparison, he said Capt Sahgal had been dedicated to political activity in addition to her medical profession.

Experts feel that the cautious chess player-like moves on the part of the Left parties will put the Congress in a dilemma. Although the Congress has already ticked its option for the presidential candidate, observers feel that it may revise its opinion in favour of Capt Sahgal. However, some are of the view that the Congress is unlikely to change its mind in favour of Capt Sahgal. The first being that they can ill afford to displease the minority community. Besides, they are banking on Dr Kalam’s loyal reciprocity as they had entrusted him with the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme in the early 80s.


Laksmi Sahgal ready for issue-based fight

Kanpur, June 14
The Left Front presidential candidate, Dr Laksmi Sahgal, is all set to take on the NDA and the Congress supported candidate Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam in the contest for the country’s highest office.

“For me the fight is between the principles of the BJP-led NDA and the Left parties,” Dr Sahgal told reporters here soon after her name was announced.

Dr Sahgal, head of the erstwhile Rani Lakshmi Bai Regiment of the India National Army (INA), said she was happy and felt proud that the Left Front had unanimously chosen her to contest for the post of the country’s First Citizen.

She said the fight was not a tussle between her and Dr Kalam but a clash more on principles and policies. She said the differences between the left parties and the NDA allies were well known and everybody and every party had a legitimate right to strive and fight for the party principles and policies.

Dr Sahgal, a practising doctor, said she received the first phone call from the party leadership around 10 am to seek her consent. She got another call around 12.30 pm to convey about her selection as the Left Front candidate.

She said it was a good indication that she was chosen unanimously without any other name figuring at the meeting.

Dr Sahgal said Dr Kalam as an individual was a nice gentleman and a scientist of an extraordinary calibre. However, the contest was issue-based and aimed more at projecting the leftist political principles and policies. UNI

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