President poll: UPA trump card catches NDA camp on wrong foot

By Pradeep Kaushal

New Delhi: Their entire poll arithmetic centred around Shivraj Patil so far, poll managers of Bhairon Singh Shekhawat may be forced to re-draw their strategy with the UPA-Left combine fielding Rajasthan Governor Pratibha Patil for presidency.

“We have to reckon with the first woman President factor, instead of the heavyweightversus-lightweight fight, which we had been projecting earlier,” said a senior BJP leader. He feared that the Rajasthan Governor “may attract woman votes across party-lines”.

However, keeping a bold face, a lieutenant of Shekhawat said, “The VicePresident is an upbeat mood, unfazed by the change of candidate by the rival camp.” He dismissed the Rajasthan Governor as a political lightweight and said Shekhawat remained

“very much in the fray”.

Asked how they would counter the “first woman President” campaign-theme, he said the “Congress cannot fault us on this count after having rejected the candidature of INA veteran Lakshmi Sehgal during the last elections.”

The BJP may not acknowledge this, but Pratibha Patil’s

“Bharatiya nari” appearance would be a strong factor. Despite a long career, she does not evoke any strong feelings across the political spectrum even in Maharashtra.

“Our feeling for her is different from that for Shivraj Patil,” said Shiv Sena General Secretary and Samana Executive Editor Sanjay Raut. “She is a non-controversial, cultured person,” he said. Sena chief Bal Thackeray would soon make the party stand clear.

The Sena is the oldest BJP ally. But as a regional party, the party has to take into account its own Marathi Manush constituency too. Pratibha Patil is a Maratha from Jalgaon.

Shekhawat’s strategists have been counting heavily on cross-voting by Rajputs in the UPA-camp. Patil has Rajput credentials too, being married to a Rajput, Devi Singh Shekhawat. Ironically, Devi Singh Shekhawat and the Vice-President both hail from Sikar district of Rajasthan. They are not directly related, but both share an excellent rapport and Pratibha Patil touches Shekhawat’s feet, treating him as a grand patri arch of her husband’s clan.

Patil’s Rajput connection was highlighted in detail when she became Governor. But she did not subsequently fall into the caste trap. As the occupant of the Jaipur Raj Bhavan, she scrupulously steered clear of the caste network, which was operated to the hilt by one of her predecessors, Anshuman Singh. If it is her Rajputlink that has motivated the Congress to select her, then it may not work the way it has been visualised.

A key supporter of Shekhawat said “no one knows that she is a Rajput and by the time people get to know, the election would be over”. “Have you heard of a Patil Rajput?” KARAN SINGH:

“I think I am the best qualified in my public life and career and whatever other qualifications I have for the President’s job. It’s not always the best man who wins. It’s sometimes the woman. What went against me was the Left veto. It’s as simple as that.” PRAKASH KARAT:

“Pratibha Patil has all the qualities we had listed for a candidate for the post of the President of the country. She is a good choice and acceptable.” VILASRAO DESHMUKH:

“By naming Patil as candidate for President, UPA chief Sonia Gandhi has shown great respect for woman power in the country. It is a matter of great pride for Maharashtra that her name has been chosen. The country will definitely benefit from her vast experience and the knowledge gained out of it.” M KARUNANIDHI:

“This is the beginning of 33 per cent reservation for women. There was no debate and the decision was unanimous. I thank all those who cooperated in this. Fielding a woman was a marvellous idea that came up in everybody’s mind.” S RAMADOSS:

“It is a welcome decision. A revolutionary and historic decision and the PMK wholeheartedly welcomes it. The move paving the way for election of a woman as President of the nation in its 60th year of independence was a huge honour for the women of ENS&PTI the country.” Too late for consensus, Atal tells Sonia NEW DELHI: Former prime minister and NDA chairperson Atal Bihari Vajpayee has bolted the door on a consensus on the candidature of Pratibha Patil for the presidency by telling both UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that their initiative for the purpose has come too late. “You have declared your candidate without eliciting our views,” Vajpayee, according to a BJP spokesman, told Sonia and the PM separately when they called him on phone. “Therefore, we are unable to give our support,” he added. Sonia, according to the spokesman, said, “For the first time in my life, I am asking you for something.” She pointed at the 60th year of the Independence and said it would be the first time when the country would have a woman president. Vajpayee, sources said, maintained that “it is fine, but we have our own candidate” now. He reminded her that the NDA had consulted her before finalising the name of incumbent President A P J Abdul Kalam in 2002. “I seek forgiveness with all humility,” the former PM told Sonia. BJP president Rajnath Singh said in a statement later that a consensus is possible if the name of the candidate is discussed beforehand. Ruling out any support for the UPA nominee, he said the NDA would support Bhairon Singh Shekhawat. Sources said the Prime Minister also called JD(U) president Sharad Yadav too seek his support for Patil.
- Indian Express (June 15, 2007)

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