Monday, Aug 12, 2002
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By Our Special Correspondent
Although the battle appears heavily tilted in favour of Mr. Shekhawat, former Rajasthan Chief Minister and BJP leader, since he is backed by the ruling NDA, the Telugu Desam, the AIADMK and the Bahujan Samaj Party, the Congress-sponsored Shinde is making all-out attempts to wean away voters from across the ruling coalition benches.
The electoral college comprises the present 788 members of Parliament. The gap between Mr. Shekhawat and Mr. Shinde is said to be about 100 MPs in favour of the former, notwithstanding the decision of the Trinamool Congress of Mamata Benerjee not to vote in favour of the NDA candidate. The Trinamool Congress with 10 MPs is upset with the Vajpayee Government's decision to back the Eastern Railways bifurcation plan.
On the other hand, the CPI(ML) lone MP, Jayanta Rongpi, has decided to abstain from voting despite the decision of the Left parties to back Mr. Shinde. Despite the numbers being against him, Mr. Shinde has campaigned by reaching out to MPs across the political spectrum, especially those belonging to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.
He hopes to get the backing of MPs belonging to the Parliamentary Forum of SCs/STs of which he is a senior office-bearer. There were reports that Mr. Shekhawat had made subtle attempts to woo Thakurs. Mr. Shekhawat has also tried to rise above his party he stayed away from last week's national council session of the BJP, a decision which was approved by the party leadership.
Despite the attempts by the two candidates to get votes from the opposite camps, it is unlikely that voting in this whip-less election would be anything but on party lines. As counting will be taken up soon after the voting, the result will be known by tomorrow evening.
The Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, tonight hosted a dinner for the NDA MPs and those supporting Mr. Shekhawat while the senior Congress leader, Manmohan Singh, held a luncheon meeting for prominent leaders from the Opposition on Friday.
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