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Pratibha Patil's presidential campaign begins

india Updated: Jun 17, 2007 12:10 IST
Shekhar Iyer and Saroj Nagi
Highlight Story

Pratibha Patil is not taking her presidential contest with Vice President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat lightly, although she knows the numbers in the electoral college are in her favour.

The soft-spoken consensus candidate of the UPA and Left parties arrived in Delhi on Saturday and straightaway got down to work. After a meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress president Sonia Gandhi and other senior Congress leaders, Patil sought an appointment with rival, Shekhawat.

She wanted to seek his "blessings" before plunging into her campaign that will take her to state capitals across the country. But Shekhawat surprised her by visiting her instead.

Starting July 1, Patil will first go to Chennai — as a gesture of appreciation to Chief Minister M Karunanidhi, who played a key role during the protracted negotiations that led to her candidature.

After her arrival in New Delhi, the Rajasthan governor — who is likely to quit her post before filing her nomination papers either on June 23 or June 25 — said she would be no "rubber stamp President" if elected.

She made it clear that she would push her campaign on the plank of being the first woman president — a point earlier highlighted by Sonia.

"My candidature for the top post is a big step for women...This shows that India has a lot of respect for women," Patil said.

She said her candidature would "inspire" other women and help in their empowerment. "(But) empowerment will not come automatically. They will have to work for it," Patil said as curious passengers at the airport jostled to catch of glimpse of her.

The day also saw Patil making a series of "courtesy calls" on UPA and Left leaders. She also spoke to BSP's Mayawati.

Backing Patil's campaign will be a battery of top Congress and other UPA leaders who besides endorsing her nomination would also solicit support for her from the newly formed Third Front and even NDA parties like the Shiv Sena, the JD(S) and JD(U). "We will knock on every door," said a Congress leader.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh too is doing his part. He has spoken spoke to chief ministers and leaders of opposition parties like Orissa's Naveen Patnaik (BJD), Bal Thackeray (Shiv Sena) and Amar Singh (SP).

Patil's election manager PR Dasmunsi was in touch with Trianmool's Mamata Bannerjee. The Congress has also reached out to VP Singh to counter Chandrashekhar's backing for Shekhawat's candidature.

On their part, CPM leaders are talking with TDP's Chandrababu Naidu. The immediate UPA-Left strategy: build up as much pressure on the NDA constituents, the Third Front and vulnerable MPs and MLAs, including those waiting for another term in the Rajya Sabha. The second part of the strategy will be worked out after the Third Front and NDA meetings on June 18.

"We have half the electoral college of 10.98 lakh votes with us. But we want to ensure 65 per cent are with us to make it a foolproof election," said a Congress leader.