The fight is on. It is Vice-President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat versus the Congress for now. Shekhawat has decided to run for the country’s top job, according to people close to him.
The Congress will name its candidate after consultations with its allies. On Tuesday, it got the support of the Bahujan Samaj Party. The process will end in a day or two after the Congress has talked to the DMK and the Left.
DMK chief and Tamil Nadu chief minister M Karunanidhi arrives in the Capital on Wednesday. "We will take a final decision on the strategy for the Presidential election after consultations with Chief Minister M Karunanidhi tomorrow and the other parties in the UPA coalition," said CPM general secretary Prakash Karat after a meeting with the leaders of the CPI, RSP and Forward Bloc.
According to people close to him, Vice-President Shekhawat believes he stands a fair chance because of differences in the ruling front over who the presidential candidate should be. The sources said Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s reported preference for Shivraj Patil was not being backed entirely by the Left.
Shekhawat met former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and other NDA leaders on Tuesday to tell them he had decided to run. He also discussed his war plan with BJP leaders Rajnath Singh, LK Advani and Jaswant Singh, and JD(U) chief Sharad Yadav.
Their first decision: to keep an eye on the Third Front, and meet after the June 18 meeting of the Third Front parties in Chennai.
Here is how the numbers stack up. With Mayawati's announcement of support for the Congress candidate, the UPA's votes - including the Left's - go up to around 6 lakh. They only have to pick a name now.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi put five names on the table at her dinner meeting with the BSP leader on Monday: Shivraj Patil, Union ministers Arjun Singh and Sushilkumar Shinde, deputy leader in Rajya Sabha Karan Singh and former Uttaranchal chief minister ND Tiwari.
They settled on one name but Mayawati wouldn't tell. "Sonia Gandhi will announce the name," she told a crowded press conference before leaving for Lucknow.