The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Prez poll punches
- SUCI member abstains in Orissa; BJP ‘dissidents’ vote for Pratibha in Ahmedabad

Bhubaneswar/New Delhi, July 19: Barring an SUCI member, all 147 legislators of Orissa today voted in the presidential polls being fought between Pratibha Patil and Bhairon Singh Shekhawat.

Chief minister Naveen Patnaik, leader of opposition J.B. Patnaik and Speaker Maheswar Mohanty were among the first voters when balloting started at 10am at the Orissa Assembly here.

SUCI member from Jashipur Shambhunath Naik decided to abstain from voting while BJP MLA Karendra Majhi voted in New Delhi.

Meanwhile, in the national capital, it was a surprise sprung from an unexpected quarter of the BJP.

Not only did NDA constituents like the Trinamul Congress abstain from voting, a group of “dissident” MLAs in Gujarat openly declared they voted for Patil to spite the chief minister, Narendra Modi. PTI quoted one of them, Bhavku Ungadh, as saying: “I have voted according to my conscience. You can make out whatever you want to from this.”

Last night Modi and his aides had shepherded the 100 “loyalists” to “safe” locations that included a water park in Mehsana, about 70km from Ahmedabad. Their cellphones were reportedly impounded. Modi had directed the Speaker and the chief whip of the legislature party to keep awake at night and “watch” their movements.

Asked to comment, Prakash Javadekar, the BJP spokesperson said: “We have taken note of it. But since there is no whip for the presidential vote, we will see if action can be taken against these MLAs for earlier acts of indiscipline.”

The other surprise element was the way in which the United National Progressive Alliance (or the “third front”) unravelled before it was properly firmed up. The ADMK, which became the nucleus of this motley bunch of out-of-work former chief ministers, upped and voted for Shekhawat. This week the UNPA had announced it would abstain from voting and remain neutral towards the Congress and BJP.

The “equidistant” politics went for a toss this morning when two MPs of J. Jayalalithaa, T.T.V. Dinakaran and S.S. Chandran voted. They were followed by two more MPs of another Tamil Nadu constituent, the MDMK, which is also part of the UNPA.

The ADMK and MDMK legislators followed suit and voted for the NDA’s candidate in Chennai.

In Orissa, BJP member Bharat Paik said the whole process was very smooth. “It’s a fight between the right and wrong,” he said after voting.

The opposition Congress had organised a meeting of its MLAs at one of the hotels here yesterday while the BJP legislators and ministers met in fisheries and animal resources development minister Golak Naik’s residence.

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