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Shiv Sena backs Pratibha Patil

Meena Menon

Sena defies NDA but says the decision won’t break alliance with BJP



Well-wishers all: Vice-President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat (second from right) after filing his nomination for the Presidential election in New Delhi on Monday. Others (from left) are: BJP leaders Narendra Modi, Rajnath Singh, L.K. Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Sushma Swaraj and Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik. Behind Mr. Shekhawat is Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal.

MUMBAI: The Shiv Sena on Monday broke its silence and said it would back the UPA candidate for President Pratibha Patil. With the decision, the Sena has defied the National Democratic Alliance and sent termors in its partnership with its ally for 21 years, the BJP.

Sena MP and spokesperson Sanjay Raut told The Hindu that the party supported Ms. Patil as she was from Maharashtra. Her family had been staying here for the last 300 years. “In the last nearly 50 years since the State was form ed, no one from Maharashtra has become President and this is an opportunity. Also this was the first time a woman was nominated.”

Asked about the Sena’s long-time tie-up with the BJP, Mr. Raut said the alliance was not at all in danger.

In a statement, Sena chief Bal Thackeray said the party was constantly faced with the question whether it would support a “Hindu” or “Marathi” candidate. “We are both Marathi and staunch Hindu.” To have a Marathi President was to pay tribute to the 105 martyrs who shed their blood for the formation of Maharashtra, which was founded 47 years ago. The State would be fortunate to have a Maharashtrian President. It would be unfortunate or unlucky to oppose her nomination.

The Sena was earlier undecided on whether to support Vice-President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat or Ms. Patil. While it has been repeating that it will vote for the “Marathi Manoos,” the fact that Ms. Patil is a woman also endeared her to the Sena.

Mr. Thackeray said Mr. Shekhawat was willing to back out if President Kalam contested for a second term. But Mr. Shekhawat once again became the Opposition candidate. If he contested on the BJP ticket, other parties would not vote for him, so he stood as independent. This was a piece of “saudebaji” and that was why the Sena took a firm decision.

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