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Bhairon plays on inner voice

New Delhi, June 11: The “inner voice” gave India its Prime Minister; now Bhairon Singh Shekhawat hopes it will give the country a President, too.

The eighty-something Vice-President from the BJP, contesting as an Independent to be more acceptable to “secular” parties, hopes that MPs and MLAs will ignore party lines and follow their conscience to vote him to Rashtrapati Bhavan.

“Inner voice” became a catchphrase after Sonia Gandhi used the expression in May 2004 while declining the Prime Minister’s post in favour of Manmohan Singh. She cited it again when she stepped down as MP last year over the office-of-profit controversy.

In presidential polls, electors are technically free to follow their “inner voice” because parties don’t issue whips. There’s a precedent in Indian history to encourage Shekhawat, and it involves Sonia’s mother-in-law.

In 1969, Indira Gandhi pulled off a coup by getting her own man to defeat the official Congress nominee, N. Sanjeeva Reddy, in a close presidential race. Winner V.V. Giri was, like Shekhawat, the Vice-President and an Independent candidate.

Another piece of “good news” for the Shekhawat camp is the growing likelihood of the ruling alliance fielding Shivraj Patil, whom it views as the “weakest” candidate.

Pranab Mukherjee would have been the toughest to beat, followed by N.D. Tiwari and Motilal Vora, a Shekhawat manager said.

Yet, at 6 Motilal Nehru Marg, the mood is not exactly upbeat although a senior BJP leader promised: “Muqabla zordar hoga (the fight will be close).”

Shekhawat’s first task is to enlist the backing of the eight-party “third front”.

So far, only ADMK chief Jayalalithaa has indicated support, with N. Chandrababu Naidu and Mulayam Singh Yadav continuing to be iffy, thanks to the Vice-President’s saffron credentials.

The ruling alliance is confident it can prevent Mulayam and Naidu from backing the BJP leader. A source close to Shekhawat said: “Bhairon baba would not like to contest if the Samajwadi Party and Telugu Desam do not back him.”

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