Disgusted BJP to review ties with Sena over Shekhawat

New Delhi, June 26 (IANS) Stung by the Shiv Sena decision to back the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) candidate Pratibha Patil for the Indian presidency, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Tuesday vowed to review its relations with its oldest ally after the July 19 presidential polls.

Expressing unhappiness over the Shiv Sena move to support Patil over her Maharashtra origins, BJP spokesperson Sushma Swaraj said the development had “saddened” the party. But she refused to say categorically if the BJP would severe its long-standing links with the Shiv Sena.

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In the process, the Shiv Sena dumped Vice President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, the BJP-backed independent candidate and the main challenger to Patil.

“We are not surprised with the Shiv Sena’s attitude but saddened. We will examine the BJP’s relationship with Shiv Sena after the presidential election. Right now we are concentrating on (the presidential election),” she said.

Proceedings on the final day of the two-day BJP National Executive meet here were dominated by the Sena’s decision while matters such as a strategy for the 2009 general elections and the coming Gujarat elections were given a go by.

“We are saddened on two counts because the Sena decided to support a candidate on the basis of regionalism. The president is elected for the entire country, not from a region,” elaborated Swaraj.

“If we (BJP) had put up a Bengali candidate, would the communist parties have voted for him? By the same token, now that Shekhawat is our candidate, will the Rajasthan Congress support him?” she queried.

When specifically asked about Maharashtra BJP president Nitin Gadkari’s remarks that the Sena’s action was “anti-national” and “anti-Hindutva”, Swaraj kept mum.

While she tried to play down the huge embarrassment caused by the Sena, other BJP leaders were livid.

BJP general secretary Gopinath Munde alleged that the Shiv Sena had betrayed his party by not backing the National Democratic Alliance (NDA)-supported candidate.

“This is betrayal. The Shiv Sena is in a deal with the Congress,” Munde charged, alleging the Sena had agreed to throw its weight behind Patil in exchange for a guarantee that former Sena leader Narayan Rane, who is in the Congress, would not be appointed the Maharasthra chief minister ever.

He dismissed as “fake” the Sena’s “Maratha pride” argument, recalling that the party had not supported Congress leader Sushilkumar Shinde, a Maharashtrian, in the last election for the post of vice president.

“At that point, it only supported Shekhawat. Where was their Maratha pride then?” he asked.

In a written statement, Thackeray said Shekhawat was contesting as an independent because he wanted the votes of all parties and this, he reckoned, amounted to horse-trading.

“It would be great to have a Marathi lady in Rashtrapati Bhavan in 2010 when Maharashtra state turns 50,” he said.