The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Push for third runner, door open on Patil

New Delhi/Chennai, June 16: The Samajwadi Party will request its new allies to consider fielding a “third front” candidate and force a three-way presidential election, sources said today.

But the party seemed to also keep the door open for possible support to the United Progressive Alliance-Left candidate, Pratibha Patil. Its general secretary Amar Singh met the Prime Minister for a “personal visit” soon after a Samajwadi meeting.

Having a third front nominee will solve the Samajwadi dilemma: it can’t be seen to support BJP man Bhairon Singh Shekhawat nor would it like to swallow its pride and back the Congress’s Patil.

It will also help the motley new grouping vote together, for currently the front partners seem to be pulling in two opposite directions.

The ADMK’s Jayalalithaa today declared in Chennai that the front would never support a Congress candidate — “it doesn’t matter if the candidate is a man or woman”.

Like the Indian National Lok Dal and the Asom Gana Parishad, Jayalalithaa has no problems voting for Shekhawat. But the Desam and the Samajwadis, their eyes fixed on the Muslim vote, cannot back the National Democratic Alliance candidate even if he should be contesting as an Independent to try and garner third front votes.

So, when the front meets in Chennai on Monday, the Samajwadis will lobby for a front candidate, sources said after a meeting between party leaders Mulayam Singh Yadav, Amar, Janeshwar Mishra and Ramgopal Yadav.

Yet, the party didn’t seem too confident of success despite Jayalalithaa, too, tossing a few words about the possibility in Chennai. Soon after the Samajwadi meeting, Amar met Manmohan Singh.

“There was no discussion on the election. It was a personal visit,” Amar said after the half-hour meeting.

He, however, conceded that the Prime Minister had spoken to Mulayam seeking support for Patil.

Would the third front name its own candidate, he was asked. “Individual opinion has no meaning and a collective decision will be taken in Chennai on Monday,” the Samajwadi leader replied.

An impression, though, persists that Mulayam’s party may in the end decide to vote for Patil even though the Samajwadi and the Congress have constantly been sniping at each other in recent years. At least one senior Samajwadi leader said he wouldn’t be surprised if that happened.

Among parties outside the major alliances — the UPA-Left and the NDA — the Samajwadi has the biggest chunk of votes after Mayavati’s Bahujan Samaj Party.

NDA convener George Fernandes met Samajwadi leaders today to lobby support for Shekhawat, but sources said he is unlikely to have made much headway.

The BJP repeated that there wouldn’t be a consensus candidate and that Shekhawat would contest.

“For the Congress, loyalty to the Gandhi family has been the main condition for the nomination while for the Left, the criteria has been the survival of the UPA,” BJP leader Sushma Swaraj said. “Pratibha Patil is the UPA’s choice under compulsion; she isn’t a natural choice.”

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