The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Backroom drive to court ex-PM club

New Delhi, June 7: Congress and UPA managers are busy weaning away the support-base of Vice-President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat.

With Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi out of the country, the focus of the presidential polls has shifted to backroom manoeuvrings.

The first step was to woo the elite club of five former Prime Ministers that the “Independent” Shekhawat was counting on.

Among them, H.D. Deve Gowda and V.P. Singh were contacted first and they have agreed not to back Shekhawat, sources said.

But I.K. Gujral turned down the UPA’s overtures. An ailing Chandra Shekhar, too, is unwilling to ditch long-time friend “Bhairon Baba”.

That leaves Atal Bihari Vajpayee, but the UPA decided against approaching him because he would obviously support the former BJP leader, who is trailing way behind the combined strength of the UPA, Left and the Bahujan Samaj Party.

The second part of the Congress-UPA strategy is to puncture Shekhawat’s thrust on being an Independent, a point forcefully articulated by BJP leader Sushma Swaraj in a recent television interview.

Sushma said the NDA would only pledge support to the former BJP leader. “It’s a numbers game. And you know there is quite a large gap between the NDA and the UPA. Therefore, we want to explore with other parties from whom we are getting support.”

In the last 24 hours, UPA leaders have contacted several smaller parties who are neither part of the ruling coalition nor the NDA to explain that presidential polls are not held on party symbols, so the question of being an Independent does not arise.


The polls are conducted according to the system of proportional representation by means of a single transferable vote. The ballot paper does not contain any election symbol. There are two columns — “Name of Candidate” and “Mark order of preference”, in which each voter can exercise as many choices as there are candidates. The voting is strictly by secret ballot.

The presidential polls involve some 107 parties spread across the country, of which only 29 are part of either the NDA or the UPA, which means the votes of 78 parties cannot be taken for granted.

There are also several Independents, whose total vote value works out to 33,043 — a number that can make or break a candidate in a close contest.

The UPA managers want to cover as much ground as possible by June 13 when the official notification announcing the presidential polls is likely to be released and Sonia will resume the final and decisive round of consultations to name the UPA-Left-BSP candidate.

The Congress president is on her way to the Netherlands, where she will deliver a lecture on “Living politics, what India has taught me” on June 9. After that, she will head to Egypt and, maybe, the Mediterranean island of Malta to holiday with her family, according to 10 Janpath insiders.

Sonia’s mother, sisters and daughter Priyanka and her family are set to join her in Egypt, the sources said, adding that son Rahul is holidaying in Europe.

The Left today ruled out the possibility of joining hands with the new political front mooted by eight regional parties in Hyderabad yesterday. CPI general secretary A.B. Bardhan said the front would not have a “decisive role” in the presidential polls.

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