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Shiv Sena to back Pratibha
Thackeray breaks ranks with BJP
Tribune News Service and agencies

Mumbai, June 25
The Shiv Sena today finally decided to end all speculations and formally announced its support for Pratibha Patil in the forthcoming presidential elections. Party supremo Bal Thackeray today said the Shiv Sena’s elected representatives, who are part of the electoral college would back Patil in the interests of Marathi unity.

With this, Thackeray has formally broken ranks with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP, which is backing Vice-President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, who is contesting as an Independent candidate.

“Perhaps it is time to refer the President as Rashtrapatni instead of Rashtrapati,” Thackeray has been quoted as saying in a Shiv Sena statement. The Shiv Sena also disapproved BJP’s ‘bargaining’ and ‘mud slinging’ campaign against Pratibha Patil.

Thackeray said the Sena would not support Shekhwat and added “we took this decision (to support Patil) because Shekhawat stood as an Independent candidate only so that he could get votes from other parties, which he would not have got as a BJP candidate.” “We do not agree with this kind of “saudebaazi” (bargaining),” Thackeray added.

Elaborating on the reasons for Sena’s decision to back Patil, he said “The country has not had a Marathi President since Independence. Now, an opportunity has been presented to make a Marathi woman a President. That too at a time when the state would be celebrating its golden jubilee in 2010.”

Thackeray said Dr Pratibha Patil would be the first Maharashtrian to reach the coveted post and also the first woman to become the president. The Sena, which has 56 MLAs and 15 MPs in Lok Sabha and three MPs in Rajya sabha, all adding up to 22,000 votes, will be supporting the ‘Marathi Manoos’ Pratibha Patil.

Political observers felt that this development was likely to jeopardise the 23-year-old Shiv Sena-BJP alliance in Maharashtra, which has so far contested seven Lok Sabha and four Assembly elections together and even shared power in the state and at the Centre.

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