Whatever the outcome of the presidential election, Leader of Opposition LK Advani sees the BJP readying itself for a long-haul fight on the issue of UPA nominee Pratibha Patil's background and the manner in which she was chosen for the country's highest post. But he won't concede that Bhairon Singh Shekhawat has lost the numbers game till the ballot boxes are opened on July 21.
Giving his assessment on the eve of the presidential poll, Advani ruled out any boycott of Patil in the event of her being elected. "It is not my thinking." On the NDA campaign, of which he was principal architect and for which he received a lot of flak, he said: "Creating serious doubts about the manner in which this government is conducting itself is not a small achievement for the Opposition." He said: "We chose Shekhawat because he was confident and keen, though we weren't sure about the numbers. There have been ups and downs. It was a difficult battle, a hard one. But it was not for symbolic reasons. It has been an exciting experience."
Advani admitted the Shiv Sena's decision to support Patil and the Third Front's move to abstain were a "jolt".
Advani said he got other BJP leaders to agree on a campaign against Patil's background only after he saw a CD of a TV report on the murder of a Jalgaon Congress leader and after his widow Rajini Patil accused the UPA nominee of shielding her brother in the case. "Rajni Patil's disclosures came as a turning point, a positive one, in our campaign. The Bombay High Court pulling up the CBI for not investigating her allegations and the Election Commission's ruling that no party can issue directions to its lawmakers to abstain from the election also came as a psychological boost," he said.
The BJP leader said the party initially received a proposal from the Congress to put up Shekhawat as a consensus candidate for the president's post and Sushil Kumar Shinde for the vice-president's post. "But we saw through it. They had no such intention... Their proposal only showed how strongly they were opposed to (APJ Abdul) Kalam."
Meanwhile, Shekhawat's supporters, including Rajya Sabha MP Tarlochan Singh, appealed to the electoral college, saying his contribution to minority welfare — including reservation for OBCs when he was Rajasthan CM and grants for madrasas — was remarkable.