Neena Vyas

NEW DELHI: Senior Bharatiya Janata Party leaders Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani on Tuesday used the party’s national executive committee to project Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, their colleague of 50 years, as a “non-partisan” candidate in the presidential poll.

No move for consensus

Mr. Vajpayee charged that the ruling coalition at the Centre had not made any effort to evolve a consensus on a Presidential candidate. “The highest office should not become a political ‘akhara’ (wrestling ring),” Mr. Vajpayee said. He condemned the statement made by Ministers against the Rashtrapati Bhavan incumbent, saying it was deplorable. The Centre should ask them to apologise, he added.

High constitutional offices were not to be reserved for the “loyalists” and the “committed,” he said, indicating that Pratibha Patil had been selected the United Progressive Alliance candidate for the President’s post for those very qualities. This, he suggested, would be dangerous.

However, there was no answer from the BJP on whether Mr. Shekhawat remained “loyal” and “committed” to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh even after assuming the “non-partisan” role of Vice-President.

Some in the UPA camp reacted quickly. Mr. Vajpayee himself had said, “Once a swayamsevak, always a swayamsevak,” and Mr. Shekhawat, a “swayamsevak,” was as partisan to the RSS and its ideology as Mr. Vajpayee or Mr. Advani were, they said. A reporter in Rajasthan recalled seeing Mr. Shekhawat participating in RSS functions, khaki shorts and all, even when he was Chief Minister.

RSS links

When NDA spokesperson Sushma Swaraj was asked about Mr. Shekhawat’s RSS connections, she said, “As such there is no membership of the RSS.” When reminded that the Janata Party Government at the Centre had fallen in 1977 because Mr. Vajpayee and Mr. Advani had refused to give up their RSS membership, she brushed aside the question.

Mr. Advani talked about a “pliant” President “loyal” to the Nehru-Gandhi family and the possibility of a “tainted” President occupying Rashtrapati Bhavan — a reference to Ms. Patil and the charges made by the NDA against her.