Vice-President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat on Monday filed his nomination papers as an independent candidate backed by the NDA for the presidential poll. But the bad news for him is that two key NDA constituents are not backing him.
Invoking Marathi pride and disapproving Shekhawat’s decision to contest as an independent to garner votes, Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray said: “The country has not had a Marathi President since Independence. Now, an opportunity has been presented to make a Marathi woman President, that too at a time when the state would be celebrating its golden jubilee in 2010.”
Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee appealed for the withdrawal of Shekhawat’s candidature as well as that of UPA nominee Pratibha Patil, suggesting instead a second term for President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam.
Shekhawat, on his part, chose the 32nd anniversary of the imposition of Emergency to file his papers, hoping to rally anti-Congress parties behind him. He said he still counted on the Third Front, now known as the United National Progressive Alliance (UNPA), to support him. “I am fighting to win… The numbers are in my favour… The arithmetic till now shows that I will win,” he said. He disagreed that the UNPA was opposed to his candidature. “There is no objection to my name. There is a conflict among the UNPA. They are considering the whole matter.”
He also refused to comment on the financial irregularities controversy surrounding Patil.
The Telugu Desam Party, Indian National Lok Dal and Samajwadi Party have decided to abstain from voting in the presidential elections while the AIADMK and Asom Gana Parishad are in favour of a separate Third Front candidate.
On Shekhawat’s prospects, senior BJP leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee said, “We have just jumped into the fray”.
Shekhawat, 84, filed two sets of nomination papers before returning officer P.D.T. Achary at Parliament House here, accompanied by NDA leaders including Vajpayee, L.K. Advani, George Fernandes, Sharad Yadav and Sushma Swaraj. Natwar Singh signed his papers as a proposer. Also present were Panthers Party chief Bhim Singh, BJP chief ministers Narendra Modi and Vasundhara Raje, Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal and Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik.
Swaraj, Shekhawat’s spokesperson, sought to make the best of Natwar Singh’s presence, saying 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.”
Raking up the allegations against Patil, the BJP's Ravi Shankar Prasad said they were “not our creation” but in public domain as documents showed that she had given “reckless advances” from the cooperative bank to her relatives.