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Shekhawat, Patil set for battle royale

NDA backs Vice President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat as an independent candidate against UPA's Pratibha Patil.

india Updated: Jun 27, 2007 20:46 IST


With battlelines drawn for the Presidential elections, the NDA on Monday came out in support of Vice President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat as an independent candidate against UPA-Left nominee Pratibha Patil, but its key constituent Shiv Sena remained ambiguous on backing him.

The support to 84-year-old Shekhawat as a "non-party and independent" candidate was announced by NDA Chairman Atal Bihari Vajpayee after a meeting of the opposition alliance, which felt the Vice President was the "most qualified and suitable candidate for the high office".

The Shiv Sena, which has taken an "ambiguous" stance on supporting Patil, however, reserved its stand on backing Shekhawat, saying it will take a decision on Tuesday. The Sena, the oldest ideological ally of the BJP, favours top posts for Maharashtrians.

"The Shiv Sena will be taking a decision tomorrow, its foundation day," senior BJP leader Sushma Swaraj said, quoting Sena leader Manohar Joshi, who attended the meeting.

There was no immediate word from the Vice President, and those close to him saying he was waiting for reports from Chennai, where leaders of the Third Front were holding a conclave on the Presidential election.

"A public figure of eminence, high repute, unmatched credentials, Bhairon Singh Shekhawat has discharged his latest responsibilities as the country's Vice President and Chairman of the Rajya Sabha entirely beyond party affiliations and with impeccable secular credentials," Vajpayee said in an obvious reference to the Left's condition that a Presidential candidate needed to be totally secular.

Noting that Shekhawat combines a lifetime's experience of dedicated public service with rare qualities of head and heart, 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."

A meeting, attended by all leaders of all the NDA constituents, claimed that Shekhawat's victory in the July 19 poll is "definite".

If Shekhawat enters the fray as an independent, it will be the first time after the 1969 polls that a Vice President would be contesting in such a way. VV Giri was the candidate at that time.

The NDA strategy to back Shekhawat as an independent candidate was aimed at garnering greater support outside the alliance, including from the UPA.

Talking to reporters later, NDA convenor George Fernandes expressed confidence that Shekhawat will be able to emerge victorious, saying arithmetic is not always static. "We know where we are. The numbers will come," he said.

His remarks were in response to a question on how the NDA could claim a majority for Shekhawat when the numbers were not in his favour.

Soon after the NDA decision, Swaraj met Shekhawat, so did JD(U) leader Digvijay Singh, a close associate of the Vice President and Shatrughan Sinha.

The octogenarian leader has been in politics for over half a decade and has been Chief Minister of Rajasthan for three terms.

Shekhawat, who has never lost an election so far, had won the Vice President's post in 2002 handsomely as he secured more votes than the total strength of the NDA. He was pitted against Sushil Kumar Shinde of the Congress who was the combined opposition candidate.

The decision of the NDA comes almost a week after the UPA and the Left plumped for a surprise candidate in Patil, projecting her candidature as a symbol of woman empowerment in the 60th year of independence as she could be the first woman President of the country.

First Published: Jun 18, 2007 12:42 IST