New Delhi : Seated between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi, United Progressive Alliance (UPA) candidate Pratibha Patil Saturday filed her nomination to fight the presidential election in which she will be pitted against Vice President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat.
The 73-year-old former Rajasthan governor was in a yellow silk saree with red border as she was ushered into the Lok Sabha Secretariat by Manmohan Singh and Gandhi to formally plunge into next month's big battle.
If she wins the July 19 election, which she is widely expected to as the combined candidate of the UPA, Left and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Patil would be the first woman president of India.
"The opposition is trying to murky the atmosphere but there is no doubt among the UPA and its allies that our candidate will win hands down," a confident Tourism Minister Ambika Soni told reporters after the papers were submitted to returning officer P.D.T. Achary.
Soni's reference was clearly to charges levelled Friday that a sugar factory owned by Patil in Maharashtra owed large amounts of money to a bank and that she was shielding her brother accused of murdering a man two years ago.
None of the dirt found any place in parliament Saturday as an army of UPA and Left leaders descended to view Patil sign her papers. But there was no sign of BSP chief and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati or her senior colleagues. Mayawati has, however, signed the nomination paper.
Patil reached parliament house at 11.30 a.m. and filed two sets of nomination papers. The first had 70 people proposing and seconding her candidature and the number in the second nomination was 75.
Patil's husband Devisingh Shekhawat was with her. Just before she signed her papers, DMK leader and Surface Transport Minister T.R. Baalu draped a cream colour shawl around Patil's shoulders in the Tamil way of honouring a person.
Among those who signed the first set of papers were UPA leaders Sharad Pawar, Lalu Prasad and his wife Rabri Devi, Sitaram Yechury, Gurudas Dasgupta, Ramvilas Paswan and Abani Roy.
Senior Congress ministers Pranab Mukherjee, A.K. Antony, Shivraj Patil, Sushilkumar Shinde and Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi were also present in Achary's room besides Maharashtra Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh and Jharkhand Chief Minister Madhu Koda.
Journalists were barred from the room and only two cameramen were allowed. Patil did not speak to the media, and neither did Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi.
Another set of nomination papers are expected to be filed later as many Congress and UPA leaders want to propose or second her candidature.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi said although Patil would be an easy winner, she would tour all state capitals appealing for support. She is likely to begin her journey on July 1 from Chennai.
Pratibha Patil, who resigned as the Rajasthan governor Thursday, was the dramatic pick of the UPA-Left-BSP alliance for the presidential election after the communists vetoed the candidature of Gandhi's first choice, Home Minister Shivraj Patil.
Although the UPA-Left-BSP alliance commands the majority support among the MPs and state legislators who will elect a new president, the contest became a complicated affair after the eight-party Third Front this week urged President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam to contest.
In a response that clearly caught the Third Front leaders by surprise, Kalam said he would if he was assured of victory before making a U turn and declaring Friday that he was not in the presidential race.
The announcement means Patil and Shekhawat will fight it out, with the numbers clearing favouring the former. Shekhawat will file his nomination papers Monday or Tuesday.
Twelve independents have also filed the nominations although many do not have the support of the mandatory 50 MPs or MLAs proposing and seconding them.
The scrutiny of the nominations will take place July 2. The election will be on July 19 and the result will be declared July 21.