UPA-Left candidate Pratibha Patil filed her nomination papers for the presidential polls to be held on July 19 in the presence of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi and other prominent leaders of the ruling combine, including the Left, who had endorsed her candidature. Patil's husband Devisingh Shekhawat was present on the occasion, expected to set the ball rolling for the election of the country's first women President.
Two sets of nomination papers were filed on Saturday before PDT Achary, the Returning Officer and Lok Sabha Secretary General. Another two will be handed in by June 30, the last day for the nomination.
Top UPA-Left leaders gathered in Parliament House to present a solid and united front when Patil, after paying homage at Rajghat, arrived in Parliament House to file her nomination papers. Those present included Lalu Yadav, Rabri Devi and Raghuvansh Prasad Singh (RJD), Sharad Pawar (NCP), Ram Vilas Paswan (LJP), TR Baalu (DMK), Sitaram Yechury (CPM), Gurudas Dasgupta (CPI), Abani Roy (RSP) and Ramdas Athawale (RPI). The Congress brigade included Union Ministers Pranab Mukherjee, Shivraj Patil, Sushilkumar Shinde (considered possible presidential nominees before Patil's candidature was decided on), Arjun Singh, AK Antony, Prithiraj Chavan and Maharashtra and Delhi chief ministers Vilasrao Deshmukh and Sheila Dixit.
With President APJ Abdul Kalam declining to run for a second term, the battle for the top job is now likely to be between 72-year-old Patil and Vice President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, who is likely to declare his candidature on June 26 with NDA's support.
But the Third Front, which failed to persuade Kalam to contest, is divided on the question of backing Shekhawat even if he stands as an Independent to secure the support of parties outside the NDA camp. Telugu Desam leader Chandrababu Naidu and AIADMK leader J Jayalalitha have refused to support the NDA candidate.
Between them, the eight third front parties have about 1.06 lakh votes in an electoral college of 10.98. With additional support coming from Bahujan Samaj Party and the Rashtriya Lok Dal, the UPA-Left have over 6.30 lakh votes while the NDA is left with less than 3.50 lakh votes. With the numbers in their favour the ruling combine is confident of Patil's victory. "Our challenge is to ensure that Patil wins by as big a margin as possible," said Union Minister Ambika Soni.
While filing her nomination, Patil informed PDT Achary, Lok Sabha Secretary General and returning officer for the presidential poll, that Parliamentary Affairs Minister PR Dasmunsi would be her official representative till the election.
The Congress, on its part, has deputed Jayanti Natarajan, Janardan Dwivedi, Devendra Dwivedy, Renuka Chaudhary and Mohan Prakash as spokespersons for the presidential nominee.
While UPA-Left leaders will fan out to mobilize support for Patil, after the last day of filing of nomination on June 30, Patil herself will travel across the country to do so, starting with Chennai on July 1. She will also issue a personal appeal to all MPs and legislators who constitute the electoral college for electing the President.