President APJ Abdul Kalam sprang a surprise on Wednesday by agreeing to run for a second term in office, if there was “certainty” about his re-election.
A carefully crafted statement from the Rashtrapati Bhawan came after the president’s meeting with Third Front leaders including Chandrababu Naidu and Mulayam Singh Yadav.
“The president told them (the Third Front leaders) during the course of discussion, as there is an overwhelming love and affection of people from all sections of society and from all parts of the country, I can accept a second term of presidency provided there is certainty about this,” said a spokesman for Rashtrapati Bhawan.
The president was also “willing to wait for a few days for this certainty (to evolve)”, he added.
Sources close to Kalam told HT the usage of the word “certainty” did not imply “consensus” on his candidature. It was a clear shift from the position he had earlier taken.
Kalam now expects the leaders of the United National Progressive Alliance, as the Third Front now calls itself, to show him how he can get re-elected if he faces a contest.
It is clear that a consensus on Kalam is not possible. Congress president Sonia Gandhi took Chandrababu Naidu’s call when he telephoned her, but only to tell him that the UPA and its partners had already gone too far in sealing Pratibha Patil’s candidature to retrace their steps.
Recalling the Congress’s support for Kalam in 2002, she told Naidu that it was his turn to help the UPA give the country its first woman president.
Senior Congress leaders, including chief ministers and party working committee members, will meet on Thursday to discuss Patil’s poll strategy.
But there is palpable indignation in the party over the Third Front’s belated intervention in the presidential race, which will divide the electoral college that elects the president further.
“They are not serious about Kalam. They are only using his name with an eye on their future politics,” said a Congress functionary. “They are reducing the stature of the President’s office,’’ charged Janardan Dwivedi, Congress general secretary.
Party spokeswoman Jayanti Natarajan said, “Why did the Third Front not wake up when (Atal Bihari) Vajpayee declared on May 22 that a consensus was not possible on Kalam? He conveyed the same in a call that he made on the president that day.”
She also recalled Vajpayee’s refusal to back KR Narayanan on the plea that there has been no convention of a second term for the president since Rajendra Prasad.
Kalam’s response to the Third Front overture has taken the BJP by surprise. For now, the leading opposition party is playing it safe. It is supporting Kalam, without closing its option of backing Vice President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat. Unlike Kalam, who wanted an assurance of his victory, senior BJP leader Jaswant Singh underlined the need for a consensus on his re-election. He said the high offices of president and vice president should not be issues of contention.
Even Shekhawat, while welcoming Kalam’s possible candidature, had laid emphasis on the word “consensus” that evidently is not Kalam’s objective. On Thursday, the BJP top brass will meet at his residence to take stock of the developments.
The Third Front is pitted against heavy odds to meet Kalam’s “certainty” clause. Its plans to get the Left parties to support Kalam’s re-election may not succeed.
“We are filing Patil’s nomination papers on June 23,” said CPI general secretary AB Bardhan. His statement came in the wake of the Third Front’s decision to meet the Left and UPA leaders to push for Kalam.
“Why should we support Kalam? We have 5.75 lakh votes (in the electoral college), which is more than that of any political combine,” said Bardhan. “Politically we are against Shekhawat and Kalam.”
(With inputs from Shekhar Iyer and Sutirtho Patranobis)