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BJP ignores allies to back Sangma

New Delhi, June 21: The BJP today formally announced its decision to back Purno A. Sangma as its presidential candidate along with the Akali Dal, the lone constituent that finally did not desert the NDA.

Having set out to use the election as an “opportunity” to grandstand against the UPA and “expose” it as a “divided” entity, the BJP achieved the opposite. Its key allies, the Janata Dal (United) and the Shiv Sena, parted ways and rooted for Pranab Mukherjee despite the BJP’s last-minute entreaties to reconsider the decision.

Smaller parties such as the JMM and the All Jharkhand Students’ Union, who are part of the BJP coalition government in Ranchi, appeared inclined to go the Sena and Dal (U) way.

Hopes to attract entities like the Telugu Desam and the Janata Dal (Secular) failed. Sources said the failure showed that the secular-communal faultline was a critical ideological block in the BJP’s way. They said the “premature” projection of Narendra Modi as a national player was another deterrent in making friends.

Against the embarrassment of living with a fractured NDA, the BJP claimed the election had created an opportunity to reach out to “potential” partners, the AIADMK and the Biju Janata Dal. These erstwhile BJP allies had originally proposed Sangma’s name but have not formally pledged their support.

The sources claimed that endorsing the candidature of Sangma, a tribal Christian from the Northeast, “opened up” the possibility of “softening” the opposition the BJP has faced from Christians after attacks on the community in Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh, states that it rules.

Addressing the media together, the BJP’s Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley explained why they had gone for a contest despite the setbacks. “The overwhelming opinion in the BJP is in favour of contesting and supporting Sangma,” Sushma said.

“We regret that this opinion has not been shared by some friends in the NDA…. Many factors weighed with us before we took this decision. The UPA had no prior consultations with the Opposition. The Opposition was informed only after the UPA announced its candidate and was requested to fall in line. Many fell in line and yet many refused to oblige.”

The sources said it was a choice between “samarthan” (offering support) and “samarpan” (surrender) for the BJP. “We chose the honourable option, although numbers were not on our side,” a source said.

The only “silver lining” for the BJP, said the sources, was that by backing Sangma its leaders had opened a “channel of communication” with two “powerful chief ministers” — Jayalalithaa and Naveen Patnaik. The sources said the BJP had asked the two to “keep working” on Trinamul chief Mamata Banerjee and get her on board. “Mamata is a senior politician and it is for her to decide. We will try to bring everyone on board,” said Sushma.

Claiming the out-of-line moves of the Dal (U) and the Sena differences on the presidential poll would “not split” the NDA, Sushma was cryptic while replying to a question on Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar raising the matter of declaring a Prime Minister candidate. “It’s irrelevant and unfortunate.”