Pranab to benefit from Cong-Sena's secret pact

Jun 19, 2012, 08:36 IST | Ravikiran Deshmukh

In a move that harks back to Shiv Sena's unexpected support for Congress Presidential candidate Pratibha Patil in 2007, the saffron party is likely to support Mukherjee this time � in return, the Congress will keep Narayan Rane on a tight leash

History is all set to repeat itself. As the Presidential race takes more twists and turns than a Bollywood potboiler, Shiv Sena is all set to add its own intriguing subplot to the saga, by abandoning its own alliance — the BJP-led NDA — to enlist support for Pranab Mukherjee, the presidential candidate fielded by the Congress. 

The Sena’s willingness to propitiate the Congress is said to have been motivated by the latter’s offer to keep the Sena defector Narayan Rane in check, and miles away from the chief minister’s seat in Maharashtra.

Quid pro Quo: According to sources, Shiv Sena’s support for Pranab Mukherjee as President, is an attempt by the saffron party to keep their friend-turned-foe Narayan Rane away from power. Pic/Sayed Sameer Abedi

Back in 2007, the Sena’s fear of Rane’s political ascendancy had compelled it to take a similar route — the saffron party did a turncoat on its own ally in the NDA — the BJP — when it shied away from supporting NDA’s presidential candidate Bhaironsingh Shekhawat. Instead, it chose to support Pratibha Patil, who had been fielded by the Congress-led UPA. Needless to say, the move created shock and stir in political circles.

On the face of it, the Shiv Sena maintained that it wanted to show support for Patil and not Shekhawat, as the former was a Marathi mulgi. But in truth, the sudden volte-face was said to have been motivated by a surreptitious pact between the Congress and the Shiv Sena — in return for the Sena’s open support for Patil, Sena’s arch rival Rane was promptly cast out from the race to Maharashtra’s chief ministerial seat. Rane, who had till then been projected as the clear favourite for the seat, was suddenly snubbed by the Centre.

This year too, the same tacit deal is said to compel the Sena to show support for the candidate fielded by the Congress party — Pranab Mukherjee — over that fielded by the NDA. The move is motivated by the Sena’s hopes that the Congress-led UPA, in return for the Sena’s support for Mukherjee, will keep Rane in check, and prevent him from ruling the roost in Maharashtra — a political scenario that could spell doom for the Sena.

A senior leader from the saffron party however, revealed that the delicate understanding could be disturbed if senior BJP leader L K Advani decided to join the Presidential race. According to the source, Advani is already testing the waters, and has made two phone calls to Sena President Uddhav Thackeray, wanting assurances of his support if he enters into the fray.

However, Thackeray was less than willing to offer any such reassurances. ‘Let the NDA narrow in on a candidate first, and then we will go into discussions,’ he is claimed to have said.

Deja vu
It is said that after Sena offered its unexpected support for Patil in 2007, the then CM Vilasrao Deshmukh and his deputy R R Patil are said to have led an envoy to the Thackeray home Matoshree, to thank the Thackerays for their support. And in return for the Sena’s favour, the Congress repeatedly sidelined Sena’s friend-turned-foe Rane, once in December 2008, and yet again in November 2010. The coveted seats then went to Ashok Chavan and Prithviraj Chavan respectively. The saffron party reaped other benefits in return for its little good turn — neither the Congress nor the NCP went out of their way to unseat the Sena in the BMC polls held earlier this year — tacit efforts were made to leave the BMC to Sena.

Kalam out of presidential fight, BJP left red-faced
Former president APJ Abdul Kalam opted out of the presidential election yesterday after studying the “totality” of the situation, dealing a blow to the BJP and Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee who badly wanted him to take on Pranab Mukherjee. His decision spiked what could have been a high-profile battle between him and Finance Minister Mukherjee, who appears set to occupy the Rashtrapati Bhavan as the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) nominee. The Bharatiya Janata Party refused to comment on Kalam’s decision. With Kalam not joining the race, the BJP said it will meet again to decide whether it should back Mukherjee or support former Lok Sabha speaker Purno Sangma. 

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