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» » News18 Shorts

Is Kalam a pawn in President polls?

Jun 19, 2007 09:16 AM IST India India

President A P J Abdul Kalam is not candidate in the Presidential election, but whether he likes it or not his name has been dragged in.

The Third Front, an alliance of eight regional parties, on Monday refused to either support the NDA or the UPA and surprised all by announcing that it would request Kalam to fight the election.

In a quick turn of events, Vice-President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat offered to withdraw from the race if consensus could be achieved on giving Kalam a second term.

Is it fair to drag Kalam's name in the election when he has made it clear that he is not interested in a second term? CNN-IBN's Editor-in-Chief > Rajdeep Sardesai asked this on Face the Nation

The politicians who took part in the discussion were Congress spokesperson Jayanti Natrajan, SP General Secretary and MP Shahid Siddiqui and BJP spokesperson Ravishankar Prasad.

Kalam or Shekhawat?

Would the BJP support Kalam if Shekhawat pulls out? Did the BJP prefer Kalam or Shekhawat? Prasad said the BJP’s decision depended on what the UPA had to say about Kalam.

“A couple months ago our top leaders went to Mr Kalam requesting him to contest. He said he would not contest unless he was the consensus candidate. The Left and the Congress want a political President and don’t want a second term for Kalam. We then decided to support Shekhawat, who has grown in stature by saying that he would prefer a consensus in the name of Kalam. The NDA will respond giving due consideration to Shekhawat’s view, but the lead has to come from the UPA and the Congress,” said Prasad.

How is the Congress fielding the Third Front’s Kalam googly? “The UPA-Left candidate is Pratibha Patil. A woman of eminence at the Rashtrapati Bhavan is what we are looking forward to. To me it looks like Shekhawat wants to opt out of the race because the numbers are clearly in the favour of Patil,” Jayanti Natarajan.
Prasad replied Shekhawat’s offer to “pull out” in favour of Kalam was statesmanship and should not be looked as accepting defeat. He dismissed UPA-Left’s “historic move” of nominating a woman as President and saying Patil was not their first choice. “She was declared the candidate under compulsion. She lacks national stature and everyone knows that,” said Prasad.

Clean record

Kalam is India’s most popular President ever and 95 per cent of the viewers saying he should get a second term. Compared to him is Patil a lightweight and did the UPA nominate her because it ran out of choices?

“I’m shocked at these allegations because it reflects a mindset against women. She is an eminent woman in her own stature,” said Natarajan.

Patil has never lost an election and has vast experience in public life. Why doubt her stature then? Prasad said he didn’t doubt Patil’s competence but “would have appreciated if the whole concept of a woman candidate would have come up in the very beginning.”

Kalam, a pawn in the game?

With the Third Front declaring Kalam as their candidate, it could seem as if they were only trying to cover their own embarrassment that they don’t want to be seen backing Shekhawat.

“No, we are serious about Kalam because he is the choice of the people of this country and we feel the President’s post should have the stature that is not contested. After Rajendra Prasad, Kalam is the second President who the country wants to give a second term to. Parties should rise above politics and support Kalam,” said Shahid Siddiqui.

To that, Rajdeep Sardesai asked why Kalam’s name wasn’t suggested earlier and only on Monday. Was it because they didn’t want to be seen on the same side as the NDA?
“No. We were for Dr Kalam from the beginning. We were just trying to build a consensus for him,” said Siddiqui.

But what if Kalam refused to stand for a second term? Was he just being dragged into the race for the Third Front’s own political ends?

“Earlier also, SP had suggested his name. Then the NDA came around followed by the Congress. But if Kalam says no, we will not support Shekhawat because he has RSS background,” added Siddiqui.

Shekhawat fighting a lost cause?

Coming back Shekhawat, as Jayanti Natarajan said, it seemed like he wanted to opt out of the race because the numbers were stacked against him. Now, Kalam seemed only a red herring, to avoid embarrassment.

“It’s clear that Shekhawat will contest as an independent candidate and we will back him. But when we suggested Kalam’s name and he said he wanted a consensus, mainly substantially from the UPA. And yes, a sitting president especially of his stature should not contest,” said Prasad.

But should that not be the UPA’s decision? If they don’t want to support Kalam, why was he being imposed on them, asked Rajdeep Sardesai.

“I’m not imposing but the question of consensus has come about,” Prasad added.

Was there a chance that the UPA and Left parties would change their mind on their candidate?

“Patil is our candidate. In fact, it is an insult to Shekhawat’s distinguished public service to call him an independent candidate. This is not the basis on which an election to the Rashtrapati Bhavan should be fought,” said Natarajan.

Referring to Shahid Siddiqui, she added that their (SP) attitude to women especially in places like Nithari was why they lost the UP elections.

Third Front talk

On Monday, at the Chennai meet of the Third Front, AIADMK Chief J Jayalalitha called Patil’s candidature a ‘joke’. Isn’t there a more dignified way in which politicians can respond?

“That is her personal view. We have great respect to Patil and Shekhawat. But to take credit for her being a woman is a very desperate move,” said Siddiqui.

Who did the panelists think would be the next President? “Politics is the art of the possible,” said Prasad. “If the Congress is so sure (of winning) then why are Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh calling up all the Chief Ministers and political leaders including Rajnath Singh? This shows that they are unsure. The election will be interesting,” he said.

Natarajan was confident that Pratibha Patil was going to be the next President of India. “The PM and Ms Gandhi trying to reach a consensus with other leaders should not be taken as a weakness,” she said.

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