The Congress turned down the NDA and the Third Front's plea for a consensus on President Apj Abdul Kalam by getting busy in preparing UPA-Left nominee Pratibha Patil's nomination papers for submission on June 23. On Monday, the party had ruled out a rethinking on its presidential nominee in the wake of the Third Front's demand. On Tuesday, it rejected the NDA's proposal as well. The clearest signal of this refusal came when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi led the list of 50 proposers and seconders in endorsing Patil's nomination. Gandhi was the first to propose Patil's candidature in the presence of Union Ministers PR Dasmunsi and Prithviraj Chavan.
The first set of nomination papers is also being signed by chief ministers and leaders of alliance partners to project the UPA-Left's unity over Patil's candidature. Dasmunsi, who is Patil's election manager as Parliamentary Affairs Minister, took the papers to Chennai to get Tamil Nadu chief minister and DMK leader M Karunanidhi's endorsement. On Wednesday, Congress chief ministers, AICC general secretaries, Pradesh Congress Committee chiefs and Congress Legislature Party leaders will be in Delhi to sign the second set of papers.
The PM also called on the President on Tuesday to brief him on his discussions with leaders of various countries during his visit to Germany for the G-8 summit. During their meeting, the two leaders also discussed issues of “national importance”. Sources said the PM informed Kalam about the UPA's choice.
But the rejection of the NDA's call for consensus on Kalam was driven by Congress spokeswoman Jayanti Natarajan. “We will not change our candidate. Even her nomination papers are ready,” she said.
She accused the BJP-NDA and the Third Front of “muddying” the waters and for “dragging Kalam's name into an unnecessary controversy”.
“They are using Kalam as a pawn and bringing his name into disrepute… If there was a modicum of seriousness in their move, they should have announced his name before the UPA decided on its candidate… It is all very suspect,” she said. She found it “strange” that the BJP leaders were saying that Shekhawat would step aside for Kalam when the former was supposed to be an “independent candidate.”
According to her, both the BJP-NDA and Shekhawat were trying to wriggle out of a tight situation in the face of certain defeat. She labeled the Third Front as the BJP-NDA's second front.
Dasmunsi said it was “unfortunate” that the UPA-Left decision to nominate Patil did not find favour with the NDA though the Congress had endorsed the NDA's choice in 2002 after the ruling combine had decided on its candidate. The NDA did not reciprocate the gesture after the UPA discussed and decided on its nominee and conveyed it to former prime ,inister A.B. Vajpayee.
On his part, Karunanidhi termed AIADMK chief J Jayalalitha's remarks on Patil's candidature as “insipid”. “In our humble opinion, there is no need for the Third Front to don the cap of joker by ridiculing Patil's candidature as a joke on the nation,” he wrote in the DMK organ Murasoli.