The third Front has named the incumbent president, APJ Abdul Kalam, as its candidate for the post of president. This has stumped the NDA alliance that formally backed the candidature of Vice-President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat against UPA nominee Pratibha Patil. The decision was taken at the Chennai conclave of the United National Progressive Alliance (UNPA), as the front is now called, on Monday.
But Shekhawat shrewdly kept his option of withdrawing open, saying he would be happy if a consensus was reached on Kalam’s candidature. In a statement, the vice-president said: “Nothing would give me greater satisfaction than the president so consenting. For this, the total unanimity of all parties is an imperative. I would be happy if that were achieved.”
Adding that Kalam and he had worked together as a “united team” for five years and nothing had affected their harmonious functioning, Shekhawat said the offices of president and vice-president were not for political contention or controversy.
Earlier, an NDA statement read out by former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee said, “The NDA is unanimously of the view that Shekhawat as a non-party and an independent candidate would be the most appropriate choice.”
There was no official word from Kalam or his office. But Rashtrapati Bhavan officials said he had not been consulted by UNPA leaders. UNPA leaders said they would meet Kalam on Wednesday. Some NDA leaders said Kalam could still be persuaded to change his mind. Later in the day, Shekhawat met Vajpayee to discuss his options amid reports of differences among NDA partners over his candidature.
In Chennai, UNPA convener Jayalalithaa told reporters that the front was keen on Kalam. “If there is one person who commands the respect of all sections of society and has also motivated the nation with his agenda, it is Abdul Kalam,” she said.
“We appeal to all political fronts and alliances to sink their differences and support the candidature of Abdul Kalam for a second term.” Asked if it was not late to make the announcement, Jayalalithaa said the time was right. “The candidature of Pratibha Patil is a joke by Sonia Gandhi,” she said. “Most people are not even serious about her candidature. And on Shekhawat, many have reservations. Under such circumstances there is no one else who can match the stature of Kalam.”
Telugu Desam Party chief Chandrababu Naidu said that even in 2002 the NDA’s first choice had been PC Alexander. Kalam’s name was proposed only after the Congress refused to go along with Alexander. “Similarly we expect the UPA and NDA to back Kalam as a consensus candidate,” he added. Former UP chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav said the new alliance wanted a common approach by all parties. “Kalam is the best candidate we have today,” he said.