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Jaswant joins ‘token’ fight

Jaswant Singh at the meeting. Picture by Prem Singh

New Delhi, July 16: Sharad Yadav didn’t want it but the sidelined Jaswant Singh has grabbed it.

The NDA today formally named Jaswant as its vice-presidential candidate after bringing on board all the allies except the Jharkhand constituents.

“It is a matter of great respect that the NDA has unanimously chosen me as their candidate. It is a big responsibility and also a challenge,” the Darjeeling MP told reporters soon after BJP colleague L.K. Advani announced his candidature.

NDA leaders met this morning at Advani’s residence. Janata Dal (United) president Sharad Yadav and Shiv Sena MP (Rajya Sabha) Sanjay Raut were present. These two allies had broken ranks over the presidential election.

The Jharkhand Mukti Morcha and the All Jharkhand Students’ Union will vote for the UPA candidates in both the presidential and vice-presidential elections.

Advani told reporters that Lok Sabha Opposition leader Sushma Swaraj had earlier approached Yadav with a request to be the candidate “but he refused”.

Dal (U) sources said Yadav was reluctant because he realised it would be a token contest and that Advani was pushing for it primarily to make the point that the UPA should not be given a “walkover”.

UPA candidate Hamid Ansari is comfortably placed to win a second term as Vice-President, with the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party backing him.

Asked why Jaswant had agreed to fight what was virtually a lost battle, BJP sources said he wanted to give himself a public “leg-up”.

Jaswant, whose best days belong to the Atal Bihari Vajpayee era when he variously served as ministers for defence, foreign and finance, later saw his career plummet.

At the time he was foreign minister, the then NDA government had given Ansari a post-retirement job as vice-chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University in 2002.

In August 2009, Jaswant was expelled from the BJP after the hardliners, with Narendra Modi as the spearhead, assailed him for purportedly being too “kind” to Mohammed Ali Jinnah in his book on the Partition.

He was brought back into the party in June 2010 thanks to Advani’s efforts but never became a part of its high-level decision-making panels.

A month ago, he had indicated to The Telegraph that he was interested in running for Vice-President because, in his words, the position needed an incumbent who not only had a stature at home but had also left a footprint in the wider world.

BJP sources said the party was hoping to bring the Biju Janata Dal and the AIADMK on board.

CPM backs Ansari

The CPM and the Forward Bloc today formally declared their backing for UPA vice-presidential candidate Hamid Ansari, a development that Mamata Banerjee may cite to withhold her support.

The CPI will decide its stand on Wednesday.