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Shekhawat files papers
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, June 25
Vice-President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat today filed nomination papers as an NDA-backed independent candidate to challenge UPA candidate Pratibha Patil for the July 19 presidential election in the presence of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha L.K. Advani.

A confident-looking Shekhawat handed over two sets of papers to Lok Sabha secretary-general P.D.T. Achary, who is the returning officer for the poll, at 11.30 am. The papers carried 266 signatures — 128 of MPs and 138 of MLAs.

While Shiv Sena and the Trinamool Congress leaders were absent at the time of filing of the papers, creating a doubt over the NDA unity, the presence of former external affairs minister K. Natwar Singh and Panther Party Bhim Singh contributed to the confidence of the Shekhawat’s camp suggesting that the opposition would get votes from the ruling party camp too.

Bhim Singh has recently snapped ties with the Congress-led coalition in Jammu and Kashmir.

Hopes of the Shekhawat camp and his backers are dependent upon support from his friends across the political spectrum.

NDA leader Sushma Swaraj compared the present contest to the historic battle in 1969 in which independent V.V. Giri trounced official Congress nominee Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy, a comparison dismissed by the Congress.

Swaraj said no one from the Shiv Sena had signed the papers but added that it had not been expected also as the party had yet to take a decision on its presidential nominee.

Shekhawat, 84, accompanied by senior BJP leaders, including party President Rajnath Singh and seven Chief ministers of the BJP-NDA-ruled states, entered the returning officer’s room where Vajpayee was already present.

Emerging from the returning officer’s room, a confident looking Shekhawat did not respond to any of the queries by newspersons, while a huge number of BJP enthusiasts, mostly from Rajasthan, raised slogans like “Rajasthan ka ek hi sher, Bhairon Singh”.

When a question was posed to Vajpayee on the NDA’s confidence level, he quipped: “Abhi to hum larne ki baat kar rahe hai (We are talking about the fight only).”

Dinesh Trivedi of the Trinamool Congress, whose name figured among the supporters in the list, however, could not sign the papers as his flight got delayed, Swaraj said, adding one more set of papers could be filed which would carry the signature of Trivedi, among others.

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