In a bizarre twist to the presidential poll, AIADMK chief Jayalalithaa on Thursday claimed her party’s MLAs and MPs had decided to vote on their own and that she was not aware of their sudden decision.
But her party leaders and those of the now tottering Third Front say Jayalalithaa had been wanting to back NDA-backed Bhairon Singh Shekhawat right from the beginning. Jayalalithaa, however, could not convince other United National Progressive Alliance (UNPA) leaders like the Telugu Desam’s Chandrababu Naidu and Samajwadi Party’s Mulayam Singh Yadav, who were against backing a BJP-RSS leader, AIADMK party sources said, adding that they had also forced her to announce that the UNPA would not vote.
Shekhawat spoke to Jayalalithaa on Wednesday. So did Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who wanted her to support the vice-president. Even when she last met Vajpayee and Shekhawat, her word to them was that she would do her “best” despite the UNPA’s decision to abstain.
Jayalalithaa herself did not vote, claiming she was out of Chennai for most of the day. She said she came to know about her party representatives casting their votes only in the afternoon, midway through the election process.
Strangely, the party’s MLAs and MPs present in the state had been issued an urgent diktat on Wednesday to assemble at the legislature party leader’s room in the assembly complex on Thursday morning, which was later changed to the party headquarters.
Jayalalitha did not hide her adulation for Shekhawat when he agreed to withdraw from the race after President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam said he would not mind a second term if there was “certainty” of winning. She was also critical of Left leaders Prakash Karat and AB Bardhan when they told other UNPA leaders that she could not be trusted to not join hands with the BJP, AIADMK officials said. Moreover, she did not want to be seen as not opposing a candidate nominated by the DMK and Congress and thus lose the AIADMK’s primacy as the main opposition party in the state by abstaining.
That would have left actor Vijayakanth as the only person voting for Shekhawat. Since the actor is already chipping away at the AIADMK’s votes, he could claim later that only he had performed the duty of the opposition by voting against the DMK’s nominee.
At around noon, MLAs and MPs of the AIADMK and its ally MDMK turned up at the assembly to cast “their conscience vote”. Asked whom he had voted for, a former AIADMK minister refused to divulge any detail. On further probing, however, he said: “Definitely not Pratibha.”