The UPA-Left went into a celebration mode on Tuesday, two days before the presidential election on July 19, with Sonia Gandhi hosting a dinner on Tuesday for allies and supporting parties at Hotel Ashok’s Convention Hall. Presidential nominee Pratibha Patil was present on the occasion where the UPA and supporting parties put up a show of solidarity. However, the BSP wasn’t there. But that was because Chief Minister Mayawati had called a meeting of her MPs and MLAs in Lucknow.
"Chief Minister Mayawati spoke and also wrote to the Congress president to tell her that she has called her MPs to Lucknow for a meeting with regard to the presidential election and they would return to Delhi in time to vote," Parliamentary Affairs Minister PR Dasmunsi said.
Seen as Mayawati’s way of not identifying herself completely with the UPA, the ruling combine however got a boost with members like SP rebels Raj Babbar and Beni Prasad Verma joining the dinner.
At the high table with Patil were Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Sonia, RJD’s Lalu Yadav and Left leaders Prakash Karat and AB Bardhan, among others.
After their initial diffidence over the BJP’s high pitched campaing against Patil, the mood was upbeat in the UPA camp ahead of the election. The EC had rejected the BJP’s plea that the Third Front’s abstention from the voting process was unconstitutional; Patil’s candidature drove a wedge in the NDA camp, with the Shiv Sena pitching for her and the Trinamool remaining non-committal on backing BJP’s Bhairon Singh Shekhawat; and the UPA secured a commitment from parties that add up to 6.30 lakh votes (out of the 10.98 lakh votes in the electoral college of MPs and MLAs).
"Our response to BJP’s smear campaign against Patil will be evident when the ballot boxes will get open on July 21,’’ said Parliamentary Affairs Minister P R Dasmunsi. His task of increasing Patil’s margin of victory got a boost with jailed MPs like Pappu Yadav getting parole to exercise their franchise and the National Conference deciding to support her on Tuesday. The National Conference’s decision would make it virtually a clean sweep for Patil in the J&K assembly where the BJP and the Panther’s party have a negligible presence.
While the third front—which has decided to abstain---accounts for 1.03 lakh votes, the Trinamool, the TRS and the JD (S) have yet to reveal their minds.
Before her dinner interaction with MPs, Patil campaigned in 21 states. Significantly, she has so far not visited her home state Maharashtra where Bal Thackeray’s Shiv Sena broke ranks with the BJP to boost her tally. "And if she goes, will she meet Thackeray?" Dasmunsi chose to sidestep the question.
But the Sena’s 12 Lok Sabha MPs have decided to cast their vote in Maharashtra and not in Parliament. The Trinamool, too, has opted to stay away from Delhi. In all, 52 MPs have been permitted to vote in their state assemblies.
On Tuesday, Patil issued an appeal to the electorate to become a part of the history of electing the country’s first woman president. While soliciting support, she also touched on the charges hurled at her. "Ever since I became a candidate for the high office, many malicious allegations have been made about my family and me. I emphatically deny these as false and baseless. Despite these attempts, I have maintained the high standards of electoral campaign," she said in her letter.
Patil did not refer to the charges or rebut them point-by-point, the task has been left to her campaign managers and in house strategists, who have collected the relevant documents and are biding their time to nail the BJP’s charges.
Meanwhile, efforts are on to put Shekhawat in the dock, with an unsigned letter raising 19 queries relating to land grabbing in Bikaner, Jaisalmer, Churu and Sri Ganganagar, financial irregularities in a non banking finance company, violating the law by registering as a voter both in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan and being named in two criminal complaints.