The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Mr President, don’t pack yet

New Delhi, June 18: A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, poised to leave Rashtrapati Bhavan with his books and rudra veena, found himself dragged into the presidential race today by a patchwork front of motley groups.

By late night, the third front’s surprise proposal of the rocket scientist’s name was gathering momentum thanks to the man who has been Kalam’s deputy for five years and could now have been expected to be a rival.

The NDA’s “Independent” candidate, Vice-President B.S. Shekhawat, announced he would be happy to pull out if everyone agreed on Kalam.

The President is “unlikely” to be tempted unless he is a consensus candidate, sources close to him said. Kalam himself has said that and, having described the UPA-Left’s Pratibha Patil as a “fantastic” candidate, he can hardly turn back and fight her.

Shekhawat met A.B. Vajpayee to ask him to persuade the BJP’s allies to support Kalam. “Shekhawat has opened up the scope for a consensus on Kalam. The ball is in the Congress’s court,” Sushma Swaraj said.

ADMK chief Jayalalithaa, too, appealed “to all parties in the NDA, UPA-Left, particularly DMK, to support Kalam” as she announced in Chennai the eight-party front wanted a second term for the President.

But Congress sources said there was no question of withdrawing Patil.

The President has granted Jayalalithaa and Telugu Desam chief N. Chandrababu Naidu an appointment on Wednesday. But a Kalam aide cautioned, “Nothing much should be read in this. He would like to know what they want, in what capacity they proposed his name.” But agencies quoted a source who said if Kalam could be sure of enough support he might consider contesting.

For the third front — which today named itself the United National Progressive Alliance — getting behind Kalam was a way of papering over the differences between pro-BJP and anti-BJP partners. Another motive could be to court the middle classes among whom Kalam continues to be immensely popular.

One reason could be his scientific accomplishments as India’s Missile Man; another his simplicity of lifestyle and manner. A source said Kalam had just three suitcases of clothes. He doesn’t keep his PC or laptop at the palatial residence. His only other possession is a rudra veena that he plays every morning.


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