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BJP wary of VP race

New Delhi, July 19: Atal Bihari Vajpayee nodded, but the hint was clear — the BJP might stay away from the race for Vice-President, leaving the Left and the UPA to pick a nominee between them.

That process formally began today.

Even while the polling to elect the President was on, the four Left parties met to pick a nominee on whom there could be the “broadest possible consensus”.

By that the Left meant consensus among them, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance and, if possible, the constituents of the recently formed United National Progressive Front.

But Vajpayee’s nod could help. Asked by reporters today if there was possibility of a consensus for the Vice-President’s post, the BJP leader nodded his head in affirmation.

The gesture reflected the feeling among some of his party men that after backing Bhairon Singh Shekhawat for the President’s post, there was no point getting involved in another contest, which, too, might end in defeat.

At the CPM headquarters, Left leaders said after the meeting they would soon begin talks with the Congress and other UPA parties on a nominee acceptable to them as well.

They described today’s interaction as the Left’s “first” formal meeting on the vice-presidential poll. “We decided to meet again, maybe tomorrow or the day after,” CPI general secretary A.B. Bardhan said.

He refused to name possible candidates but said all names that had figured in the media were discussed. “And having discussed the names, we have come to the conclusion that we must meet with other parties and see on which names there can be the broadest possible consensus.”

Bardhan said the candidate need not be a member of a party. But he should be “political” enough to conduct proceedings in the Rajya Sabha.

There is speculation that Jamia Millia vice-chancellor Mushirul Hasan, historian Irfan Habib and M.S. Swaminathan, the father of the Green Revolution, are possible Left candidates. Bengal Assembly Speaker H.A. Halim and Bardhan himself have been mentioned, but the CPI general secretary again made it clear he was not in the running.

Elsewhere, Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe MPs, cutting across party lines, made a case for an SC/ST candidate. Fifty-eight SC/ST MPs reportedly attended the meeting. A joint statement issued later said: “It has been unanimously decided to make an appeal to all political parties to nominate/elect an SC/ST candidate for vice-presidentship.”

Lok Sabha deputy Speaker Charanjeet Singh Atwal, of the Akali Dal, is being informally mentioned as a possible candidate.

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