New Delhi, June 20: Purno A. Sangma today quit the Nationalist Congress Party that he founded with Sharad Pawar and Tariq Anwar in 1999 and pitched himself as Pranab Mukherjee’s contender in the presidential election.
Sangma, 64, is likely to get the BJP’s support along with that of the Akali Dal. The other NDA constituents, the Janata Dal (United) and the Shiv Sena, have already pledged their votes for UPA’s Mukherjee. Another element was added to the stand-off with the JD(U) as the RSS today spoke out against Nitish Kumar’s “secular” condition.
But the BJP, sources said, is inclined to retreat somewhat from the dais and leave the nitty-gritty of campaigning and the nature of the discourse to Subramanian Swamy.
Swamy, who heads the Janata Party that has no presence in the electoral college voting for the President, has centre-staged himself as Sangma’s campaign manager.
The BJP’s reluctance to take on the front role is because of its apprehension that Swamy could vilify the campaign against Mukherjee and use it as a forum to attack Sonia Gandhi, the sources said.
Also, its endeavour to use the presidential poll to expand the NDA and prospect for new friends bombed after two of its oldest allies, the Sena and the Dal (U), rooted for the UPA candidate. The Akali Dal, born and nurtured on the politics of anti-Congressism, has decided to stick with the BJP.
In 2007, Sudheendra Kulkarni, L.K. Advani’s political adviser, had used the Net to raise muck against Pratibha Patil. The NDA had then fielded Bhairon Singh Shekhawat as its nominee.
However, the Congress not only countered the BJP’s allegations with promptness, it showed up the Opposition party as petulant and graceless. Sections of the BJP want the leaders to conduct a “dignified” campaign this time.
“By and large, we have decided to back Sangma,” a source said after an abridged meeting of the BJP core committee this evening at L.K. Advani’s residence. Sushma Swaraj and Jaswant Singh were the others present. Nitin Gadkari was away in Nagpur and Arun Jaitley recused himself. Swamy was the lone NDA representative.
However, there was no announcement. Sources said the BJP, divided on going for a contest, would take a final call in the next two days after Sangma publicly announces himself as a contender and the Left Front makes its intention known. Also, the BJP is awaiting the final word from Jayalalithaa and Naveen Patnaik, Sangma’s original sponsors.
In case Sangma backs off for some reason, sources said the BJP’s only option was to field Jaswant despite the prospect of a defeat staring in its face. “In principle, we are determined to go for a contest. We know we will lose as an Opposition party,” a source said.
That Swamy, who was inducted into the NDA recently, would be the coalition’s prime mover and shaker was evident this afternoon. He announced Sangma’s resignation and the BJP’s plan to meet this evening to firm up its candidate.
After meeting Sangma, Swamy urged Mamata Banerjee to back Sangma. “Mamata is one of the few politicians in the country who has shown some spine. I thank her for that,” Swamy said.
In his resignation letter to Pawar, Sangma wrote that the tribal forum of India, Jayalalithaa and Patnaik had endorsed his candidacy but his parent party had refused to. “The disinclination of NCP to endorse my candidature amounts to a denial of the aspirations of the tribals of the country,” he alleged.
Pawar promptly accepted his resignation and requested the Speaker of the Meghalaya Assembly, of which Sangma is a member, to disqualify him under the anti-defection law.
The only chip left with the UPA to strike a possible bargain with Sangma is the continuance of his daughter, Agatha, in the council of ministers. As of now, the Congress has adopted a hands-off stance, saying it was an internal matter of the NCP.
Sources in the NCP said they would have “no issue” with Agatha continuing as a junior minister as she was “not responsible” for her father’s “deeds”. Agatha had initially campaigned for Sangma but backed off when Pawar asked her to. Sangma’s resignation letter was, however, mailed by Agatha’s office in the rural development ministry.