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BJP Appears Set To Back Sangma In Prez Poll

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With A P J Abdul Kalam deciding not to contest the Presidential poll, BJP today appeared set to back P A Sangma's candidature and convince its dithering NDA allies like JD(U) and Shiv Sena to fall in line and give up plans of a consensus on Pranab Mukherjee.

BJP leaders, especially L K Advani and Sushma Swaraj, were keen on having Kalam as the Opposition candidate due to his stature and his wider acceptability among the political parties.

However, he declared today that he does not wish to contest as his "conscience" does not permit him to do so.

Advani was in constant touch with Kalam over the phone for the past few days.

Today he had sent party leader and close associate Sudheendra Kulkarni twice to Kalam as his emissary. He also talked to Kalam on the phone but the latter did not agree.

Sources said Advani asked Kalam to delay his statement on the decision to opt out but the latter decided to come clean and end all speculation.

Jolted by this decision, BJP decided to convene a meeting of its Core Group to discuss the new development and decide the future course of action.

Asked what the party intends to do now as Kalam has refused to contest, BJP spokesperson Nirmala Sitharaman said," Whatever decision we take we will convey to the media. BJP is not alone. The issue will be discussed in detail by the NDA and a decision taken in a democractic manner."

An NDA meeting will be held tomorrow.

With Kalam opting out, sources said JD(U) is likely to become even more adamant about not having a contest.

Sangma does not enjoy the stature that Kalam does, rendering a contest even more redundant, according to JD(U) sources.

JD-U leader and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar refrained from clearly spelling out whether his party favoured contest against Mukherjee, saying it will not be approporiate for any constituent of the alliance to make public its separate viewpoint when discussions were on within the joint forum of NDA.

Shiromani Akali Dal patron Parkash Singh Badal said his party will back the decision taken by NDA.

Shiv Sena is also keeping its cards close to chest but is talking to other coalition allies on the issue.

Interestingly, BJP MP Maneka Gandhi today met Mukherjee in his North Block office of the Finance Ministry, and said whoever becomes the President should be a consensus candidate."

Commenting on the former President's decision to opt out, Congress spokesman Manish Tewari said Kalam is a "very distinguished person. We have highest respect for him. We hold him in high esteem. If in his wisdom he has taken a decision it must obviously be an appropriate decision."

Trinamool Congress MP Kunal Ghosh said Mamata and the party have "done their duty by proposing his (Kalam's) name for the presidential election as the ablest candidate for the highest post."

He said a comment on Kalam's opting out will be made by Mamata.

BJD chief and Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, who had put forth the candidature of Sangma, continued to push it.Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh, who was with Mamata in propping up Kalam's name before making a U-turn, said "Kalam chapter is closed one".

After Mamata pushed Kalam's candidature, BJP also tried hard to persuade him to contest.

BJP leader L K Advani called him thrice and sent his close aide Sudheendra Kulkarni twice to convince him. However, he made clear to Advani that his "conscience" is not permitting him to contest, sources said.

"Many, many citizens have also expressed the same wish (that he should contest). It only reflects their love and affection for me and the aspiration of the people. I am really overwhelmed by this support," Kalam said.

"This being their wish, I respect it. I want to thank them for the trust they have in me," he said.

When referred to Kalam's move to opt out, BJP spokesperson Nirmala Sitharaman said her party will discuss all such issues with other allies of NDA before a decision is taken.

The NDA, which met here yesterday, failed to reach any decision as it was divided over opposing Mukherjee and there was lack of clarity on extending support to P A Sangma.

JD-U, a crucial constituent of the NDA, wanted that there should be no contest against Mukherjee because of his stature, but BJP was of the view that there should be a fight.

Kumar today said he favoured a consensus on the issue of candidature for which efforts are on within the Opposition alliance.

He said he has a "good relationship" with Mukherjee but his relations with Sangma "is not bad". "In politics, one shares good relations with all," Kumar said.