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Prez polls: How Sushma Swaraj dodged the media
Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi | June 23, 2007 18:19 IST
There are media conferences and then there are media conferences.
The conferences by the spokespersons of the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata party and a few other leading regional parties are of the latter kind.
With the race to the Rashtrapati Bhavan picking pace, the Congress' Jayanti Natarajan (for the United Progressive Alliance) and the BJP's Sushma Swaraj (for the National Democratic Alliance) have been briefing the press about the day-to-day developments in the respective camps.
On Friday, as Sushma Swaraj came to address the media, she came prepared for a tough couple of hours, as her side had ostensibly goofed up earlier in the day.
Just a few hours ago, Rajani Patil, a woman from Maharashtra accused the UPA's presidential candidate Pratibha Patil of shielding her brother in a case relating to the murder of her husband in 2005.
Even as the timing of the conference was questioned, a fact that did not go unnoticed was that it was held at an NDA ally's home.
The Congress brushed aside the charges and Sushma had the tough job of convincing the media that elements in the NDA did not orchestrate the event.
How the NDA views the presidential poll and how easily politicians get away with anything even in front of scores of TV cameras was evident as Sushma fielded questions from the seasoned Delhi hacks.
Here is the transcript for your reading pleasure.
Sushma Swaraj: "The events that were unfolding fast, have been halted today. And, the situation is absolutely clear. The leaders of the Third Front (United National Progressive Alliance) came to meet the leaders of NDA at (former PM) Atal Bihari Vajpayee's home. They have informed us that Dr Kalam has refused to contest the election.
"They have also told us that the manner in which the reactions that came from three ministers after Dr Kalam's announcement to stand for election has hurt Dr Kalam. Dr Jayalalithaa who briefed us in English used the word 'wounded' and 'hurt'. Dr Kalam has clearly said to the leaders of United National Progressive Alliance that he won't fight the election. Let me recap the event. Six months back we [the NDA] had met Dr Kalam and proposed to him that we would like to extend support to him.
"Since the matter didn't progress, the Congress announced its own candidate and the NDA gave its support to independent candidate Bhairon Singh Shekhawat. After that Dr Kalam's name came from the Third Front. Shekhawat said that if a consensus is being formed in favour of Dr Kalam he will be happy to step aside. We, too, welcomed the decision of Dr Kalam and decided to support him.
"We said so to the Third front leaders who came to meet us. But, today, he told to the Third Front leaders that he will not contest. So we are back to the original situation where we are supporting the independent candidature of Shekhawatji. Today we have asked the support of the Third Front leaders for Shekhawatji. We said that since you have declared that you want to defeat the Congress-supported candidate at any cost, it will be wise of you to declare your support for Shekhawatji.
"Dr Jayalalithaa said that she had come to meet us straight from the Rashtrapati Bhavan [Images] and that she would meet other leaders and will inform us in due course.
"On behalf of the NDA, Bhairon Singh Shekhawat is an independent candidate on the election battle ground. We are managing his election with full vigour. We will contact all the voters. As Vajpayeeji announced, when we had declared our support to Shekhawatji, his victory is absolutely certain. We are marching ahead with the confidence to win.
I have nothing more to say. You may ask your questions."
Question 1: Few minutes back Dr Jayalalithaa told the media that the UNPA has already decided it will support neither the UPA candidate nor the NDA candidate. Since Shekhawatji is a candidate supported by the NDA, they have expressed their inability to support him. Comments?
Sushma Swaraj: I am not aware if she has said so. We don't take notice of statements given via television. I will react only when they inform us formally. I told you what she told us in our last meeting. I am unaware of any meeting taking place and any such decision.
Question 2: You said that Dr Kalam is 'hurt' and 'wounded'. Was this the observation of Dr Jayalalithaa or did Dr Kalam tell her so? Because the official statement from the Rashtrapati Bhavan doesn't mention such words.
Sushma Swaraj: I think these are Dr Jayalalithaa's observation. He must have talked to her emotionally so she must have observed this.
Question 3: The news has arrived from Maharashtra that Pratibha Patil has taken a loan of Rs 17 crore some 17 years back and still hasn't repaid it yet. We have the copy of the notice given by bank in which she has been declared a defaulter. Such a personality is ahead in the race to become the first citizen of India. Give us your reaction.
Sushma Swaraj: First of all, I haven't seen any such thing. Let me tell you very clearly that this fight is not a personal fight against Pratibha Patil. This is the ideological and political fight. Let me tell you that I am nominated as spokesperson of the NDA. This fight will go on till July 19. It's not my style to speak anything personal against Pratibha Patel. On behalf of the NDA no cheap remarks will be said at all against her. Therefore, I will not react to what television channel IBN-7 is saying or what other channels are saying. As I said this is an ideological and political battle. We are fighting keeping in mind the nation and I will not remark on Paratibha Patil's personal matters.
Question 4: Sushmaji, but, the Congress alleges that Rajani Patil who leveled personal allegations against Pratibha Patil held the media conference in the house of Professor Sukhdeo Sinh Dhindsa of Akali Dal, an ally of NDA�
Sushma Swaraj: First of all, the allegations of the Congress are absolutely baseless. None of the NDA members know who Rajani Patil is. None of us have met her. Rather, how they used Dhindsa's house is still a mystery to us. According to my information Dhindsa is not in town. He is in Simla. Probably, he is not even aware that some press conference was held in his house! We are busy finding out how the conference was held in his house. I can tell you this much that the allegation by Congress is absolutely baseless. This press conference was not organised by any person connected to NDA.
Question 5: Will Dhindsa file a complain in the police station for misuse of his house without his knowledge?
Sushma Swaraj: I am saying that probably he is not aware because in morning for some other work I was talking to him and he didn't mention at all that there will be some press conference in his house.
Question 6: Sushmaji, in this connection Dhindsa is giving interviews through telephone on TV channels and he says that Chandan Mitra, who is connected to your party and Tarlochan Singh, Rajya Sabha member, had asked for his permission to use his house. In the press conference Sudheendra Kulkarni, who used to be political secretary of L K Advani was present. How can you say that no NDA member was involved?
Suhsma Swaraj: Let me explain to you how. Chandan Mitra is not connected to BJP. He is a nominated member of the Rajya Sabha. Singh is also not connected to NDA. As far as the third point is concerned let me tell you that the media convenor of the NDA Nalin Suri is present right here. He also heard this story. He called Sudheendra and he (Sudheendra) has said that he is not connected to the event directly or indirectly.
Question 7: But, eight to ten journalists saw Sudheendra in the press conference with Rajani Patil.
Sushma Swaraj: I have no idea at all. We are unaware. I have already told you till July 19, the NDA will not stoop to that level. We will not say a word against her, personally.
After struggling for some more time to convince the media that the NDA had no connection with Rajani Patil, Sushma said: "I am not a spokesperson for Sudheendra Kulkarni. Why don't you ask him? I am repeating again that the NDA had nothing to do with the press conference. We have not and we will not level personal allegations against Pratibha Patil.
Question 8: Have you asked Bhairon Singh Shekhawat whether he organized this press conference against his rival candidate?
Sushma Swaraj: Look, I don't even need to ask him because his character is so grand. While sitting here I can assure you that Bhairon Singh can not even think of such press conference, forget about arranging it.
Without checking with him I can tell you that he will not stoop so low to arrange a press conference against his rival.
Question 9: What kind of action will the party take against Sudheendra Kulkarni if his involvement is found?
Sushma Swaraj: First, let me find out the truth. Whatever Sudheendra told Nalin, I have shared with you.
Question 10: Don't you think you have been trapped by the UNPA? The NDA gave its support to their candidate Dr Kalam but now, the UNPA is refusing to support the NDA candidate.
Sushma Swaraj: It's not true. We haven't entered any trap. Six months back NDA leaders had gone to Dr Kalam to extend him their support. Then, the candidate we are supporting [Shekhawat] has said that if Dr Kalam becomes consensus candidate he will be happy. So, we haven't been trapped.
Question 11: Don't you think that you will suffer a setback without the support of the Third Front?
Sushma Swaraj: The Third Front was never with us. We have asked them to support Shekhawatji. Milega to theek, na mila to theek! (If we get their support its fine, if we don't that is fine, too.)
(Adds in sarcastic tone) We are in the battle field. We will fight and we will win! UNPA or no UNPA!
Question 12: Don't you think these political bickering of last few days have eroded the dignity of the post of the President?
Sushma Swaraj: This is a fight for the highest post. In this election if dignity is lowered it's lowered by the ruling party. Dr Kalam was within his right as a citizen of India to stand again in the election.
The dignity of the President is hurt by the way the ruling parties have reacted.
Question 13: Patil has resigned as governor of Rajasthan. Will Vice President Shekhawat resign?
Sushma Swaraj: It's not necessary. In the past, many vice presidents have fought elections. Its not binding for him to resign and more so, in Shekhawat's case because he is an independent candidate. He doesn't have to resign for ethical reasons.
Question 14: If the Third front announces another candidate would it harm you?
Sushma Swaraj: In that case, second preference will be given to Shekhawat. If the Third Front announces their candidate and also declares that they will give us the second preference than it is as good as the first preference. No problem.