New Delhi, June 21: National Democratic Alliance leaders today described their meeting with the newly formed third front as an “endeavour” to give national politics a direction, but wouldn’t say whether they would back front candidate A.P.J. Abdul Kalam for another term.
They repeated that if the President agrees to contest, they would vote for him and said how “gracious” their candidate, Vice-President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, was by being the first to endorse Kalam’s candidacy once he had indicated he could be the front’s nominee.
But there was no word on whether the NDA would call on Kalam to offer support.
On its part, the front — a club of former chief ministers who have come together under the banner United National Progressive Alliance — refused to say if it would back Shekhawat in case it fails to rustle up the numbers for Kalam.
Its stand so far is that Shekhawat, like UPA-Left-BSP nominee Pratibha Patil, is a “political entity” and, by implication, could divide the political establishment and check the emergence of a consensus for the “high office”.
The NDA and the front will meet again tomorrow. But it’s apparent that while the BJP sees an opening for a larger alliance with the motley group of regional parties for the 2009 elections, the front leaders have confined their strategy to the presidential polls and getting Kalam a second term.
“Kalam is a national issue, he is not a political issue. We are carrying out a national mission because, during his term, Kalam had created new aspirations among youths and intellectuals…” said Telugu Desam leader N. Chandrababu Naidu, the front’s convener.
After the NDA-front meeting in Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s residence this evening, BJP spokesperson Sushma Swaraj said the front leaders would explain the situation to Kalam tomorrow. If he agrees to contest, the NDA would vote for him.
Sushma said they had not discussed a back-up plan with Naidu and Mulayam Singh Yadav or even brought up Shekhawat’s name. “We don’t want to place all our cards on the table,” she added.
BJP veteran Jaswant Singh, the leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, said the meeting was an “encouraging” sign.
“The natural question then is, we should take it forward.”
The Shiv Sena skipped an NDA meeting this evening. Sources said until chief Bal Thackeray officially disclosed the party’s stand on June 25, as he has promised, there was no point participating in the deliberations on the presidential poll.