The Congress on Monday ruled out a rethinking on their presidential nominee Pratibha Patil in the face of the third front’s move to persuade President APJ Abdul Kalam to contest. But the BJP-NDA-supported nominee Vice President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat’s hints that he was prepared to withdraw from the race if there is a consensus on the incumbent has added to the pressure.
The Congress was in a late night strategy session to take stock of the developments. There was, however, no word from Kalam who has earlier said that he would not contest unless there is a consensus on his name. “We have already fielded our candidate. There is no question of giving it a second thought,’’ said Congress spokesman Satyavrat Chaturvedi earlier in the day when he was quizzed about the third front’s decision on Monday. “Has Kalam given his consent?’’ he asked. Chaturvedi read a “desperation’’ in the the United National Progressive Alliance’s (UNPA) move to back Kalam given the differences among its leaders on supporting Shekhwat.
The United Progressive Alliance (UPA), on its part, has directed all its parliamentarians and legislators to vote only for Pratibha Patil and not mark any second preference in the ballot paper if there is a triangular contest on July 19. The UPA-Left’s strategy is to ensure that Patil wins in the first round of counting itself and there is no need to take stock of second preference votes. The Opposition’s is just the opposite: to force the battle into the second round in the hope that the UPA-Left voters would list their second preference.
The third front leaders — who formed the UNPA on Monday to try and induce a realignment of forces before the 2009 Lok Sabha polls — plan to meet the President on June 20 to press for his candidature. “We are not scared. The third front’s projection of Kalam will create confusion and divide the votes in the non-UPA camp. We, on our part, have to see that there is no cross voting when it comes to the second preference votes,’’ said another Congress leader.
On the basis of its legislative strength, the UPA has 5.70 lakh votes out of the 10.98 lakh votes of the electoral college comprising MPs and legislators. The NDA has nearly 3.50 lakh votes and the third front adds up to another 1.06 lakh votes.