`Vice-President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat's chances now have weakened'
Most parties for first woman PresidentNDA to take a decision on June 18
The Bharatiya Janata Party was taken by surprise at the show of unity in the United Progressive Alliance camp on their Presidential candidate Pratibha Patil, who at present is Governor of Rajasthan. Although BJP leaders are not willing to say this on record, privately they agree that the chances of Vice-President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat emerging a winner in the Presidential contest now have become weaker.
Several factors are at play. One, the Shekhawat camp was banking heavily on cross-voting in the Presidential election from Thakur legislators -- his strategy was being prepared by a couple of Thakur political friends. Ms. Patil is married to a Shekhawat and is, therefore, a Thakurain. So that factor has been neutralised.
Two, Ms. Patil if elected would be the first woman President of the country and many legislators and political parties would like to make that possible.
Even the Janata Dal (United) may find it difficult to oppose Ms. Patil.
Its party president Sharad Yadav had already indicated earlier that he would like to wait and see what efforts, if any, the UPA would make to build up a consensus on its candidate for Rashtrapati Bhavan.
Three, from the standpoint of the BJP's allies, the Shiv Sena would find it tough not to support a Maratha for the post of President, especially because it would be the first chance for a Maharashtrian to become President.
And finally, although there is no evidence of unity, as yet, in the Opposition camp, some senior BJP leaders are confident that the National Democratic Alliance and the Third Front will both back the Vice-President who seems keen to contest the post of President as an independent candidate. However, there is also the view that the Samajwadi Party and the Telugu Desam Party would be reluctant to vote for Mr. Shekhawat as he has been a BJP man almost all his life and relinquished the party membership only when he became Vice-President.
The NDA stand will become clear on June 18 when its leaders are scheduled to meet here at the residence of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.