Vice President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat filed his nomination papers on Monday as an independent candidate -- backed by the NDA against the ruling UPA nominee Pratibha Patil for the presidential poll.
Eighty-four year old Shekhawat was accompanied by senior NDA leaders including Atal Bihari Vajpayee, LK Advani, George Fernandes, Sharad Yadav, Sushma Swaraj and others.
He filed two sets of nomination papers before the returning officer and Lok Sabha Secretary General, PDT Achary, at Parliament House in New Delhi.
Chief Ministers of BJP-ruled states including Narendra Modi and Vasundhara Raje, Akali Dal chief and Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, BJP chief and Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik were also present.
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who informed the NDA leaders of his inability to attend, said his party, the JD(U), would fully back Shekhawat.
Natwar Singh who has been suspended from the Congress signed Shekhawat's papers as a proposer and was also present there. So was Panthers Party chief Bhim Singh, who had announced snapping of ties with the Congress in Jammu and Kashmir recently.
Shekhawat’s spokesperson Sushma Swaraj sought to make the best of Natwar Singh's presence, saying that it was not a token appearance. "It will send a strong message.” Singh, said "Shekhawat was a very good Vice President and he can be an outstanding President".
Asked about the prospects of Shekhawat, Vajpayee said "we have just jumped into the fray".
More than 266 people including 128 MPs signed the two sets of nomination papers. But the NDA’s key constituents – the Shiv Sena and the Trinamool Congress -- were conspicuous by their absence.
Swaraj, however, said Trinamool Congress MP Dinesh Trivedi could not make it as his plane was late. She hoped the Shiv Sena would support Shekhawat.
In his first message, Shekhawat asked Third Front parties, which are opposed to the Congress, to rally behind him against UPA nominee Pratibha Patil. They command more than one lakh votes in the electoral college that elects the President.
In fact, Shekhawat chose the 32nd anniversary of the imposition of the Emergency to file his papers to buttress his position as a leader against the Congress.
His appeal to the Third Front, now known as the United National Progressive Alliance (UNPA), came amid reports that it is split on supporting him.
The Telugu Desam Party, the INLD and the Samajwadi Party have decided to abstain from voting in the presidential elections. The AIADMK and the AGP, on the other hand, are in favour of putting up a separate Third Front candidate. The three parties have reportedly conveyed their decision to NDA leaders.
Shekhawat refused to be drawn into any debate on allegations against UPA nominee Pratibha Patil, saying he would not saying anything against his rival. He also said he was not upset by the lack of numbers on his side now. He is counting on friends across the political spectrum. The UPA-Left have said he has practically no chance against Patil.
BJP’s Ravi Shankar Prasad said the allegations against Patil were "not our creation" but are in public domain as documents show that she had given "reckless advances" from the cooperative bank to her relatives.
He said no amount of explanation from the Congress or its "spokesman" Left Parties would do in the matter as they had themselves projected in Patil's bio-data that she had worked substantially in the cooperative sector for the empowerment of the women.