Surrounded by an enormous and adoring crowd, the Congress rebel and the Maharashtra minister of state for Finance, PWD and Water Resources, Sunil Deshmukh (51) put up a big show of strength when he went to file his nomination papers from Amravati Assembly constituency against the Congress candidate Rajendra Shekhawat, son of President Pratibha Patil, on Friday afternoon.
Thousands of Congress workers, defying party directives, descended from various parts of the city and the main roads in the second biggest city of Vidarbha remained clogged for around three hours. Sources said it was a befitting reply to the Congress leadership that denied him a party nomination and fielded Rajendra Shekhawat (42), the son of President Pratibha Patil.
Accompanied by hundreds of supporters and beating drums Rajendra too filed his nomination this afternoon.
There was tight security at the office of the Returning Officer for Amravati here with a posse of policemen maintaining a strict vigil outside the office to prevent any untoward incident and out of security considerations for Shekhawat. In fact, the security was so tight that even press reporters, photographers and television crews were not allowed into the chamber of the returning officer for shots of the President's son handing in his papers.
A little while later, Deshmukh, similarly accompanied by his wife Dr Sonal and supporters, arrived at the office to file his nomination. Speaking to reporters later, the Maharashtra minister said that he was sure of winning the election. “Of the 21 Congress members of Amravati Municipal Corporation, 20 are with me, including the city Mayor Ashok Dongre. I have the support of the third front, and they have withdrawn the Samajwadi Party candidate in my favour," he claimed.
Asked what his stand would be after the elections, the rebel Congress leader said that it would depend upon the situation at that time. "I can't say what I will do right now. It would be inappropriate," he said.
In reply to a question, Deshmukh said that he was expecting action from the Congress for opposing the party's official candidate. "I have entered the fray against the official nominee of a party. Action is inevitable. I am ready to face any eventuality," he also said.
Rajendra said that being the President's son could not be a disqualification for getting a ticket from a party for an election. "I have not been given the ticket only because I am the son of the President. I have been doing social work for the last ten years. I have been given the ticket purely on merit. Will there be no consideration of that? I cannot be denied a ticket only because my mother happens to be the country's President,” he said.
Shekhawat continued, "I was born in a family with a political background. My mother was an MLA when I was born. Since I was 14 years old, I have been participating in my mother's and my father's election campaigns. I have that experience with me.”
Asserting that he had full support from the party and its workers, Shekhawat said that he would also try to convince rebel Deshmukh to withdraw from the fray. The Maharashtra minister has entered the fray as an independent after the Congress denied him a re-nomination to give Shekhawat the ticket.
In fact, Deshmukh had been given options, but he did not accept them, Shekhawat said, but did not specify what the options were. "I know that he had been given options, but it would not be appropriate for me to say what those were," he said.