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    Kalam opting out gives Pranab a virtual walkover

    New Delhi: APJ Abdul Kalam's decision not to contest the presidential poll because the numbers were not in his favour has not only left the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance divided, but also stunned Trionamool Congress supremo and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who had till now been his biggest supporter.Kalam opting out of the President poll has virtually given a walkover to the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance nominee Pranab Mukherjee, who is set to quit as the Finance Minister and become the 13th President of India.The former president had made it clear that he would jump into the fray only if he was assured of his victory. But with the UPA nominating Mukherjee and also pulling out all stops to get support for him, Kalam was not left with any option.With only Mamata's party openly backing him and the NDA bitterly divided over putting up a candidate, Kalam decided to throw in the towel even before the fight.Mukherjee enjoys immense respect across the political spectrum with several BJP leaders also favourably disposed towards him, but Kalam could have given him a run for his money if the NDA had been united in supporting him and managed to get the non-UPA parties on board.Kalam’s prospects brightened on June 13 when in a stunning development soon after meeting Congress President Sonia Gandhi, Mamata joined hands with Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav to propose his name along with that of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and former Lok Sabha speaker Somnath Chatterjee. Mamata's belligerent stand in rejecting Sonia’s nominees – Mukherjee and Vice President Hamdi Ansari - with Mulayam on her side hit the Congress like a sledgehammer and the party went into a over drive to contain the damage.With 24 hours it was Mamata who had been boxed into a corner with Mulayam ditching her and expressing his support to the UPA in the President poll. After the Congress-led alliance without the Trinamoool Congress in attendance named Mukherjee as its nominee, Mulayam and Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party quickly lent their support, further isolating Mamata and forcing Kalam to do a rethink.As the NDA, which was way behind in the numbers game to challenge the UPA, remained deeply divided, Kalam saw the writing on the wall and decided not to face the embarrassment of a humiliating defeat.Several NDA constituents like the Shiv Sena, which has opening come out in support of Mukherjee, the Janata Dal (United), the Shiromani Akali Dal and even many BJP leaders are against putting up a candidate even though senior BJP MP LK Advani is keen on not giving Mukherjee a walkover.But with Kalam not contesting and Sangma’s candidature yet to elicit the desired response even though he has the backing of two strong regional leaders - Biju Janata Dal supremo and Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik and AIADMK President and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa - it seems that the NDA is keen on fighting a losing battle.