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NDA backs Shekhawat
Vice-President says he will be happy if consensus can be achieved on Kalam
Satish Misra
Tribune News Service

Former Prime Minister A B Vajpayee along with BJP leader Sushma Swaraj (right) and NDA convener George Fernandes (left) speaks to media persons after the meeting of the National Democratic Alliance in New Delhi on Monday.
Former Prime Minister A B Vajpayee along with BJP leader Sushma Swaraj (right) and NDA convener George Fernandes (left) speaks to media persons after the meeting of the National Democratic Alliance in New Delhi on Monday. — Tribune photo by Manas Ranjan Bhui

New Delhi, June 18
The ongoing battle of nerves for the country’s top post took an interesting turn today evening when Vice-President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, who has the support of NDA, said here that he would be happy if consensus could be achieved on the candidature of President A P J Abdul Kalam.

Kalam’s name has been proposed by the newly constituted United National Progressive Alliance (UNPA).

“Nothing would give me greater satisfaction than the President (Kalam) so consenting for this. Total unanimity of all parties is an imperative. I would be happy if that was achieved", Shekhawat said in a statement hours after the UNPA announced support to Kalam for another term and the BJP-led NDA openly backed Shekhawat for the post.

While it is not clear whether Kalam would agree to contest but his entering the fray cannot be ruled out if chances of victory appear bright, sources said.

Referring to the UNPA decision, Shekhawat said he found it gratifying that the Third Front has announced its decision for Kalam to consent to be the President of our country for yet another term. He said Kalam and he have worked together "unitedly" for the past five years and no difference of viewpoint or approach has clouded our functioning or relationship, he said.

“These high offices of the Republic are not for political contention or controversy. These are onerous responsibility which must be discharged with due seriousness and dignity. I have not been found wanting in this regard for the last 55 years and will not be found wanting,” Shekhawat said in his statement.

The NDA, barring the Shiv Sena, had announced its support for a “non party and independent” Shekhawat after a meeting of the constituents of the alliance at the residence of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Sources said Shekhawat’s statement is aimed at acquiring a high moral ground and cornering the UPA by attempting to turn the public opinion in his favour. His statement apparently has the potential of complicating the race for Rashtrapati Bhavan for the ruling Congress-led UPA alliance and the Left parties.

Earlier, announcing the NDA’s decision, former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee said the NDA was of the “unanimous view” that Shekhawat was the best and appropriate choice as a “non-party and independent candidate for the high office”.

The NDA wholeheartedly supports Shekhawat, as an independent candidate for the office of President of India, he added.

“He combines a life-time experience of dedicated public service with rare qualities of head and heart. A public figure of eminence, high repute, unmatched credentials, Shekhwat has discharged his latest responsibilities as the country’s Vice-President and Chairman of Rajya Sabha, entirely beyond party affiliations with impeccable secular credentials,’’ newly appointed NDA spokesperson for Shekhawat’s election campaign Sushma Swaraj said.

With the NDA formally rejecting the UPA’s appeal for a consensus on the presidential nominee, the stage is set for a battle royale between the two Shekhawats — the Vice-President who is considered the tallest Rajasthan leader and UPA nominee and Rajasthan Governor, who is of Maharashtra origin but is married to Devi Singh Shekhawat, originally a resident of Rajasthan, who migrated to Maharashtra.

Shekhawat, on paper, has an uphill task as the number of parties supporting his rival is very high. However, his own past record of securing votes of 74 MPs of non-NDA votes in the vice-presidential poll five years ago is a source of concern among the UPA poll managers and a source of strength for the NDA.

Even the Shiv Sena’s support for Shekhawat is doubtful at the moment as its representative former Lok Sabha Speaker Manohar Joshi, who attended the NDA meeting today, said his party would declare its stand on June 19.

If Shiv Sena declares support for Patil on the ground of “Maratha pride”, then Shekhawat’s chances get a further setback.

An indication of the bright chances of Shekhawat’s victory was the state of panic that is prevailing in the UPA camp, Sushma Swaraj pointed out.

“That is why Sonia Gandhi has been calling up Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha L.K Advani, Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Jaswant Singh and BJP President Rajnath Singh”, Swaraj said adding that “she has not called up anyone in last eight years since she joined politics”.

In response to a question why was the NDA in general and she in particular as a votary of women empowerment was opposed to a woman as the country’s President, Swaraj said “this is a fake argument and this empowerment was out of compulsion as she was not neither the first nor the natural choice” and moreover “we want a person loyal to country and constitution in the Rashtrapati Bhavan” but we cannot allow a woman loyal to a “family”, in reference to Gandhi-Nehru family, to sit in the Rashtrapati Bhavan.

Shekhawat meets Vajpayee

New Delhi, June 18
Vice-President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat called on former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee for a dinner meeting here at the latter's residence. The meeting assumed significance as it came hours after Shekhawat issued a statement in which he broadly hinted that he may withdraw from the race to the Presidency if a consensus builds around the name of Dr A P J Abdul Kalam.

Informed sources, however, described the meeting as a “routine dinner meeting” between the two leaders. They said since Vajpayee had been wanting the V-P to partake dinner with him for the last couple of days, Shekhawat had just honoured the former PM’s request. They added that nothing more should be read into the meeting. — UNI

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