Kalam quits Prez race, leaves BJP-Mamata red-faced

Former president APJ Abdul Kalam on Monday decided not to contest the Presidential polls.

Zeenews Bureau

New Delhi: With Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee being strongly backed by the UPA and other parties, former president APJ Abdul Kalam on Monday decided not to contest the Presidential polls.

Issuing a formal statement, Kalam said that he was overwhelmed by the support he received but considering the current political situation, he decided against contesting the poll.

“You are aware of the developments in the run up of the Presidential election. Though I have never aspired to serve another term or show interest in contesting the election madam Mamata Banerjee and other political parties wanted me to be their candidates… many citizens also expressed the same wish. It only reflects their love and affection for me and the aspiration of the people. I am really overwhelmed by this support. This being their wish, I respect it. I want to thank them for the trust they have in me,” the former president said in the statement.

“I have considered the totality of the matter and present political situation and decided not to contest the Presidential Election 2012,” Kalam added.

His decision spiked what could have been a high-profile battle between him and Pranab Mukherjee, who appears set to occupy the Rashtrapati Bhavan as the United Progressive Alliance nominee.

Unlike in 2002 when he enjoyed near universal support barring the Left, this time even some sections of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) were not eager to field him.

Political observers said Kalam’s decision was embarrassing for the BJP and Mamata Banerjee as they both rooted for Kalam without even consulting him.

The Congress, which wants other parties to also back Mukherjee, welcomed Kalam`s exit.

"(Kalam) is a very distinguished person... I think it obviously must be an appropriate decision," spokesperson Manish Tewari said.

Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav, who had earlier appeared to go with Mamata Banerjee, said in Lucknow: "The Kalam chapter (is over)."

Importantly, Kalam thanked Mamata Banerjee for the faith she reposed in him.

Kalam’s assertion gains importance as it comes after the Trinamool Congress, the BJP and the Shiv Sena requested him to jump in the fray and take on Pranab da. Dr Kalam had earlier – before the UPA managed to build consensus on Pranab - indicated that he would like to contest if there was sizeable support for his candidature.

However, Kalam expressed his unwillingness to contest to BJP leader LK Advani when the latter called up the former president to request him to contest the poll.

The BJP, which is not in favour of allowing Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee a walkover in the Presidential race, was keen on Kalam, as the party feels that owing to his wide popularity he will give a tough fight to Pranab.

Prior to Advani’s phone conversation with Kalam, key BJP man Sudeendra Kulkari twice met Kalam today.

Mamata Banerjee, who first floated Kalam’s name for Presidency, had maintained that her party remains firm on backing Kalam.

With Kalam - who was the president in 2002-07, not joining the race, the BJP said it will meet again to decide whether it should back Mukherjee or support former Lok Sabha speaker PA Sangma, the joint candidate of the AIADMK and Biju Janata Dal.

In a surprise, BJP MP Maneka Gandhi met Mukherjee. After her meet, she said she wants consensus on President.