The Congress on Tuesday strongly defended Pratibha Patil's candidature for presidential elections. The party brought the UPA allies on a common platform to condemn the saffron party's "baseless and frivolous smear campaign" against her. It castigated the opposition for destroying the sanctity of the election.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister PR Dasmunsi repeatedly quoted film Sholay's famous line jo dar gaya voh mar gaya to indicate that the party would not be browbeaten by the BJP's high-pitched campaign.
The Congress has hammered out a three-pronged strategy. The first part was unveiled on Tuesday when top UPA leaders countered the opposition's anti-Patil campaign. A similar exercise is expected from Left parties. Finally, a detailed rebuttal of the allegations against Patil will be issued. The Congress is busy collecting facts to nail the BJP "lie".
But a counter attack on NDA-backed Bhairon Singh Shekhawat is ruled out lest it should be accused of doing what it charged the BJP with: lowering the dignity of the presidential campaign. Operation Shekhawat has been left to individual players.
However, UPA leaders suggested he quit as vice president just like Patil did.
At a press conference, Pranab Mukherjee, Arjun Singh, PR Dasmunsi and Prirthviraj Chavan (Congress), Lalu Yadav (RJD), Sharad Pawar (NCP), T.R. Baalu (DMK), Ram Chandra Paswan (LJP), Poonuswamy (PMK) and E Ahamad (Muslim League) denounced the "nature and tenor" of the current campaign which threatened to dilute the norms of the presidential election.
Mukherjee targeted BJP leader LK Advani. However, a joint appeal signed by allies, including CPI-M's Sitaram Yechury and CPI's Gurudas Dasgupta does not mention him or the BJP by name.
Mukherjee reacted sharply when asked why Patil did not counter the charges herself. "Why should she? All allegations are frivolous and unfounded; not proved in any court of law", he said. He also said that assets are declared in keeping with the law, and not by someone's wish list.
The Congress, however, claims the list is ready. Since the rules of the presidential and vice presidential Act, 1952 did not call for it, it was not submitted to the returning officer.
Mukherjee debunked the BJP's call for a conscience vote saying that MPs and MLAs vote as per their conscience and party's desire. He found it strange that Advani wanted people informed about the major issues in the polls.
Lalu saw a "desperate strategy" in the BJP's "fascist'' anti-Patil rhetoric since she is tipped to become the first woman president.