I will not be a rubber stamp, says Pratibha
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I will not be a rubber stamp, says Pratibha

The UPA presidential nominee dismisses fears of becoming a mere figurehead if elected the president.

india Updated: Jun 17, 2007 04:07 IST

Asserting her own individuality, United Progressive Alliance (UPA) presidential candidate Pratibha Patil on Saturday dismissed apprehensions of her becoming a mere figurehead if elected president as she kicked off her campaign in right earnest.

"There is no question why I should be a mere rubber stamp. I have my own thinking and I have my own individuality," affirmed Patil after meeting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at his residence.

Patil, 72, visiting Delhi for the first time since her name was announced as UPA candidate on Thursday, arrived to a grand welcome in New Delhi as hundreds of people mobbed her at Delhi airport to catch a glimpse of who could emerge as India's first woman president.

Kicking off her campaign for the July 19 presidential elections, Patil first called on UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and followed it up by meetings with Manmohan Singh and allies including Railway Minister Lalu Prasad.

A cheerful and relaxed Patil also spoke expansively of her husband, Devisinh Shekhawat, who lives in Jalgaon in Maharashtra.

"He has been a source of great strength all the time for me. I have drawn a lot of inspiration from him," she said.

Patil also met Vice-President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, who is widely tipped to be her challenger and who would be backed by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led opposition National Democratic Alliance (NDA).

Announcing that she would resign as Rajasthan governor before plunging headlong to canvas for votes, Patil declared that she would offer homage at Mahatma Gandhi's memorial at Rajghat before filing her nomination papers.

Even as she went about meeting various UPA leaders, efforts were underway to get other parties to support her candidature.

As part of this exercise, Samajwadi Party general secretary Amar Singh, accompanied by veteran Communist Party of India-Marxist leader Harkishen Singh Surjeet, called on Manmohan Singh, who also spoke on telephone with Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray.

Amar Singh, however, denied he was there to discuss presidential polls.

Though details of Manmohan Singh's meetings were not revealed, it was reliably learnt that he had impressed on Amar Singh the need to back Patil.

The Samajwadi Party is part of a grouping of eight regional parties called the Third Front and accounts for 105,000 of the over one million votes in the electoral college for the presidential election.

The UPA and the Left have 513,000 votes while the NDA has 354,000 votes.

Highly placed sources told IANS that Manmohan Singh was also likely to speak to Janata Dal-Secular (JD-S) president HD Deve Gowda, a former prime minister, to secure his party's support for Patil.

Some days ago, Deve Gowda, currently in Bangalore, had said that despite sharing power with the BJP in Karnataka, his party was not bound to support its candidate for the next president.

This was reiterated by party spokesperson Kunwar Danish Ali.

"My leader is away in Bangalore but I know my party has not taken a decision on any candidate so far. I can clearly say that we are not committed to vote for Shekhawat," said Ali.

An indication that a contest for the presidential election seemed certain came from BJP spokesperson Sushma Swaraj, who maintained the party's resolve to back Shekhawat in spite of the prime minister's appeal to the NDA to support Patil.

"There is no question of a consensus candidate," declared Swaraj at a press conference in New Delhi.

Even so, Patil's election seems almost a certainty and the only question is the margin with which she secures her victory - with the numbers clearly stacked in her favour.

The Election Commission issued a notification on Saturday for the July 19 election.

First Published: Jun 16, 2007 20:34 IST