No sooner had UPA’s presidential candidate Pratibha Patel said she had sought an appointment with Vice President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat for his blessings, she had a surprise at her Jodhpur House door on Saturday evening.
Disregarding protocol, Shekhawat, who is all set to contest the Presidential election as an independent, was there along with Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje. He spent 20 minutes with her and after the meeting refused to say if he had indeed “blessed” Patil.
Shekhawat wanted to send a message to his supporters that he shared excellent personal relations with Patil, who is married to Devi Singh Shekhawat of Rajasthan, his aides said.
On the other hand, the BJP managers were on an overdrive to show the NDA was united on Shekhawat’s candidature. Led by BJP chief Rajnath Singh, senior functionaries were in touch with Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray to ensure the Sena did not get swayed by Patil’s Maharashtrian background.
Sushma Swaraj, BJP’s deputy leader in Rajya Sabha and a key strategist, declared the Sena would surely stand by the NDA, which would back Shekhawat.
She tried to allay the apprehensions of Janata Dal(U) leaders, saying Shekhawat’s "independent status" would not be clouded by his earlier association with the BJP and that it should not turn away the Third Front.
NDA convener George Fernandes also met SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav and other top party leaders to plead for Shekhawat.
With TDP’s Chandrababu Naidu and Samajwadi Party’s Mulayam Singh Yadav still undecided about supporting Shekhawat, AIADMK chief Jayalalitha said the June 18 conclave of the Third Front parties in Chennai had three options — put up a candidate of its own, support
Shekhawat or abstain.
Jayalalitha ruled out the Third Front’s support for Patil. She also said " Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi is planning to make his son M K Stalin Chief Minister here and is asking for the Vice-President's post for himself."
Jayalalitha said Shekhawat had sought her support to which she had replied that since the AIADMK was now part of a Front it could only abide by the decision of the Front.