Secular support for Shekhawat?

By Faraz Ahmad


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New Delhi : Communist patriarch Jyoti Basu may not like him, but it seems Vice President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat does have "secular" support for his presidential ambitions.

Amid indications that the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) would throw its weight behind him even as the Congress is determined to put up a candidate of its own, some "secular" parties may also be rooting for him.

These are from the newly floated "Third Front" that include the Samajwadi Party, once a darling of the Left, the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and the AIADMK.

AIADMK general secretary and former Tamil Nadu chief minister J. Jayalalitha assured former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee two days ago that she would discuss with her partners June 6 in Hyderabad the possibility of supporting Shekhawat. Vajpayee had telephoned her.

On Friday, Samajwadi Party general secretary Amar Singh also hinted at the possibility of supporting a non-United Progressive Alliance (UPA) candidate but refused to commit himself on Shekhawat.

Amar Singh's ambiguity on this question was in sharp contrast to his adamant refusal to support a Congress candidate.

The Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) has categorically ruled out backing Shekhawat. Jyoti Basu told Shekhawat in Kolkata last week that his party could not support anyone with a communal tag.

The "Third Front" is a Samajwadi Party baby, and canvassed for its leader Mulayam Singh Yadav during the just ended Uttar Pradesh elections that he lost.

If the "Third Front" parties decide to vote together, they would constitute a solid block. Even if it is not enough to catapult Shekhawat to the Rashtrapati Bhavan, it would see him put up a formidable fight for the top post.

The common thread among the "Third Front" parties is their antipathy towards the Congress, which heads the multi-party UPA and which is banking on the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) to tilt the balance in the presidential race in its favour.

Another "secular" party outside the "Third Front" that could also go for Shekhawat – who enjoys respect among large sections of the political establishment – could be the Janata Dal-Secular (JD-S).

The JD-S is sharing power with the BJP in Karnataka. But its general secretary Kunwar Danish Ali is also ambiguous saying: "We have not been approached by anyone so far."

The June 6 meeting in Hyderabad will be attended by Amar Singh, N. Chandrababu Naidu, Jayalalithaa, Om Prakash Chautala, Brindaban Goswami and Mulayam Singh Yadav.

Amar Singh said Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) general secretary Prakash Karat "has been constantly calling me up. We told him clearly that there is no question of supporting a Congress candidate.

"But if there is a Left candidate with a good image supported by the Congress, we could consider," he said.

Asked if he ruled out his party's support to Shekhawat, he retorted: "Where is the question? We are meeting in Hyderabad to discuss this."