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Race to Rashtrapati Bhavan
The National Democratic Alliance suffered a setback when the Shiv Sena, the oldest ideological ally of the Bharatiya Janata Party, on Monday night broke ranks by coming out in support of United Progessive Alliance-Left presidential nominee Pratibha Patil, giving a jolt to Vice President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat contesting as an independent.
Swayed by the Marathi card, Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray declared support to Pratibha saying it would be good that the nation would have a first woman President from Maharashtra, which would be celebrating 50 years of its formation in 2010.
"It is Maharashtra's fortune that a Marathi woman is for the first time becoming the President. Those opposing it should be termed as wretched," Thackeray, whose party has a vote value of 22,950 in an electoral college of 10.98 lakh, told reporters in Mumbai.
Thackeray also attacked BJP, accusing it of "bargaining" for Shekhawat by making him contest as an independent and for "mud-slinging" on Pratibha over the cooperative bank issue.
The Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress is also lukewarm to supporting Shekhawat and continued to bat for a second term for incumbent A P J Abdul Kalam.
The cracks in NDA surfaced hours after Shekhawat filed his nomination as an independent candidate backed by NDA in the presidential election.
However, the 84-year-old vice president found support from suspended Congress leader K Natwar Singh as also Bhim Singh of Panthers Party, which has recently snapped ties with the Congress-led coalition in Jammu and Kashmir [Images].
The Sena decision was on expected lines with its leadership giving enough indications for the last two weeks that it could ill-afford not to back Pratibha.
In his statement, the Sena chief regretted that those in power never thought of a Marathi President for the last 60 years.
"To have a Marathi President in the 47th year of the formation of Maharashtra is a tribute to the sacrifice of the 105 martyrs who laid down their lives for the state," he said.
Thackeray accused BJP of "bargaining", saying Shekhawat joined the fray as an independent to get votes from other parties, which he would not have as a saffron party nominee.
"We took this decision (to support Pratibha) because Shekhawat stood as a independent candidate only so that he could get votes from other parties, which he would not have got as a BJP candidate.
"We do not agree with this kind of saudebaazi (bargaining)," Thackeray said.
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