Chennai : The battle for India's top constitutional post intensified Monday with the newly formed eight-party regional group announcing its support to President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam for a second term.
"There is no other candidate who has the stature of Kalam," announced AIADMK chief and former Tamil Nadu chief minister J. Jayalalitha, after a two-hour meeting of the so-called Third Front leaders at her residence here.
The meeting, which former chief ministers Mulayam Singh Yadav of Uttar Pradesh, Om Prakash Chautala of Haryana and N. Chandrababu Naidu of Andhra Pradesh also attended, decided to call the new grouping as UNPA.
"We will appeal to all political parties to support Kalam as there is no other leader who is respected by all sections of the society today," Jayalalitha said, calling the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) decision to field Pratibha Patil as a "joke".
"(Kalam) is the right candidate for a united and strong India," she said. The AIADMK chief said UNPA leaders would call on Kalam soon to try and persuade him to stay put in Rashtrapati Bhavan.
"Kalam's candidature needs to be supported, because we need to build the nation again and guide it away from fissiparous tendencies," she said.
If Kalam – who has declared that he won't go for a second five-year tenure unless there is consensus among all political parties – could be persuaded by the newly baptised United New Progressive Alliance (UNPA), there would be a triangular fight for the post of president.
While the ruling Congress-led UPA-Left-Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) combine is fielding Rajasthan Governor Patil, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance announced Monday that it would back Vice President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, who is contesting as an independent.
Jayalalitha said UPA's decision to field Patil at the eleventh hour after several other names got vetoed was a "joke" on the nation played by Congress president Sonia Gandhi and that Patil was nowhere of the same "stature" as Kalam.
"Many people in the country, I am talking about the public perception, are not ready to take Pratibha Patil's candidature as seriously."
According to AIADMK sources, Jayalalitha had a significant say in Monday's meet here on the choice of Kalam as the newly formed front's nominee.
Her choice also appeared to be guided by the politics in Tamil Nadu. The AIADMK and its allies in the state have been pushing for Kalam, who is a scientist of repute as well as a Tamil from the Hindu holy town of Rameswaram.
The AIADMK and others are critical of Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi for blocking a second term for Kalam. DMDK leader and film star Vijayakanth has publicly condemned Karunanidhi over Kalam.
The anti-DMK camp attributed DMK's refusal to support Kalam to Karunanidhi's "grudge" against the president for not attending the Tamil Nadu chief minister's 50th birthday celebrations.
Jayalalitha said the front would appeal to all political parties to support the candidature of Kalam, whose term ends next month. A presidential election is scheduled for July 19.
Chautala, a former chief minister of Haryana, added: "I would like to appeal to everyone including the media to join hands to support Kalam because his presence is needed at this juncture for the country."
So far only Rajendra Prasad, the first president of India, has had two terms. All others have been president for only one term.
Jayalalitha also announced that the new grouping, which had its first meeting in Hyderabad two weeks ago, would be getting stronger soon. "There are several other political parties willing to join us", she said.