On the face of it, the fledgling third front’s support of a second term for President APJ Kalam is motivated by two considerations: to showcase its constituents as better secularists while pitching for the incumbent whose name might move larger numbers in the popular domain than in the electoral college for the presidency.
Regardless of Vice President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat’s offer to help build a consensus on Kalam, the chances of it happening seem remote.
That’s specially so as the United Progress Alliance has already started campaigning for Rajasthan Governor Pratibha Patil. That leaves one with the big question: will Kalam contest as the sitting President? The final word on the Front’s move would come after its leaders’ scheduled call on Kalam on Wednesday.
If he agrees to take a shot and Shekhawat stays in the race, said the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) professor Pushpesh Pant, the contest could be a cliffhanger, bring as it would into play the third front’s second preference votes that might go to the Vice President “without inviting the charge that the secular formation supported a saffron-nominee.”
Pant backed his argument by recalling former UP Minister Azam Khan’s recent statement that support for Shekhawat will not erode the Samajwadi Party’s Muslim base. In that context, what interested the professor more was the “covert” part of the SP-TDP-AIADMK game plan.
“Towards that end, the third front might make the contest triangular even if Kalam refuses to play ball,” Pant averred.
For his part, TDP chief Chandrababu Naidu told the Hindustan Times from Chennai that Kalam, who is averse to entering the fray without a broad political consensus on his name, was aware of the purpose of the June 20 meeting in Delhi.
Naidu disagreed that the third front was being over-ambitious in promoting the rocket scientist at this late juncture. He said 2007 could well be a repeat of 2002, when the TDP-SP combine catapulted Kalam by making the Congress and the NDA abandon support for the then President K.R. Narayanan and civil servant-turned-politician P.C. Alexander. “We swung it for Kalam when it was Narayanan versus Alexander. The current scenario is no different,” Naidu remarked. “Most presidents after V.V. Giri (who defeated Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy) have been consensual choices. We aren’t for a contest; we are for a consensus on Kalam, who richly deserves a second term.”
The TDP leader went on to assert that the incumbent President has "ignited" the minds of the youth: "He has wider popular support than other aspirants; surveys show that he’s the choice of 80 per cent Indians."
In comparison, the main stakeholders in the electoral college — comprising Parliament and state legislatures — have engaged in partisan play. “Political divisions over who should be the president aren’t good,” reasoned Naidu. He did not disclose the third formation’s fall back strategy in the event of Kalam saying no, thank you.