President APJ Abdul Kalam is out of the race. Vice-President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat is back as an independent contestant, supported by the NDA, against United Progressive Alliance (UPA) nominee Pratibha Patil.
But Shekhawat will not get the backing of the United National Progressive Alliance (UNPA) or Third Front, whose efforts to prop up Kalam against Patil have come a cropper.
That was the broad picture that emerged on Friday evening, bringing to a close the political drama of the last three days, which began with the UNPA proposing to Kalam that he contest, and the latter sending the political class into a tizzy by saying he was willing to do so if his victory was “certain”.
As the ruling UPA, its allies and the Left stood firmly behind Patil, opposing Kalam and some among them even criticising him, UNPA leaders like Jayalalaithaa, Chandrababu Naidu and Mulayam Singh Yadav realised that, barring the NDA, no other political party or alliance was willing to endorse Kalam. There would be no consensus on him, let alone any “certainty” of his securing a majority vote from the electoral college that elects the president.
Kalam’s decision to bow out was officially announced by Rashtrapati Bhawan spokesman SM Khan after the president’s meeting with UNPA leaders in the afternoon.
"The President told the delegation (of UNPA leaders) that, after considering their request and reviewing the situation carefully from all angles, he has decided that in the current scenario, he will not be interested in running for a second term as he does not want Rashtrapati Bhawan to become involved in any political process," Khan said.
The UNPA leaders informed NDA leaders about Kalam's decision. Jayalalithaa thanked NDA leaders, especially Vajpayee and LK Advani and praised Shekhawat’s "statesman-like" decision to support the UNPA's proposal.
When it came to the NDA's request to consider supporting Shekhawat, the UNPA leaders stood by their decision not to support either a Congress candidate or one supported by the NDA.
The NDA, which had been half-expecting the decision, stood by Shekhawat. "We are in the fray with or without UNPA support. Shekhawat is our candidate. We have sought support from the Third Front," NDA spokeswoman Sushma Swaraj said.
Saying the UNPA's "Mission Kalam" had been undertaken in the nation's interest, Jayalalithaa criticised UPA ministers for their "unbecoming, boorish and uncalled for statements" against Kalam which denigrated the office of the President.
She said Kalam told the UNPA delegation that he was "deeply wounded" by the statements.The Congress welcomed Kalam’s decision. Patil will file her nomination paper on Saturday in the presence of the PM, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and other coalition partners who have endorsed her candidature.