The upcoming Presidential elections will see the contest of just two candidates -- and one of them is Pranab Mukherjee. On Tuesday, the poll authority rejected Bharatiya Janata party (BJP)-backed candidate Purno Agitok Sangma’s charge that his opponent held an office of profit.
For, the government submitted before returning officer V K Agnihotri that Mukherjee, 76, who is chiefly backed by the ruling Congress-led United Progressive Alliance, had resigned from the post of chairman of the Indian Statistical Institute (ISI) on June 20, which was eight days before he filed his nomination for the top constitutional post.
With this, the nomination of Mukherjee, along with that of Sangma, stands valid. Agnihotri, who is also the Rajya Sabha secretary-general, later declared that the two were the “only candidates” left in the fray for the July 19 polls.
Yesterday, during scrutiny, 64-year-old Sangma filed a petition demanding the rejection of Mukherjee’s nomination. His ground: the former finance minister held an office of profit by heading the ISI at the time of filing of his nomination.
On Tuesday, Mukherjee’s election manager and parliamentary affairs minister Pawan Kumar Bansal, along with Home Minister P Chidambaram, submitted a written reply before the returning officer. Speaking to reporters later Bansal said, “He (Mukherjee) had resigned as ISI chairman on June 20, (more than) a week before he filed his nomination on June 28.”
A tenacious BJP soon alleged that Mukherjee’s resignation letter, which was filed before the returning officer, was fabricated. Yesterday, Sangma’s charge against Mukherjee had for a brief while got the party election managers in a huddle and both Bansal and Chidambaram met up with Mukherjee for an explanation.
According to sources, Bansal, an astute lawyer, promptly framed the reply himself before going over to the Agnihotri’s office to submit it.
While the Congress had yesterday itself issued a statement outrightly rejecting Sangma’s claim, confusion refused to settle: the ISI website continued to show Mukherjee as its chairman. By evening, though, the portal, showed blank space against the chairman’s name.
On Tuesday, BJP general secretary, Ananth Kumar, who is advisor to Sangma, said the BJP believed that the documents shown in support of Mukherjee’s ‘prompt resignation were manufactured. “The signature on his resignation sent to ISI president M G K Menon and that on his statement to the returning officer do not match,” he told a press conference here. We are keeping all options open because it is now legal issue.”
It is not just Mukherjee; Menon, too, should explain the matter, he added. “The ISI president should also explain why he didn’t circulate the resignation letter with other board members,” Kumar said. “The resignation letter which was sent from finance minister was not mentioned in the diary entry, as it is necessary in all official letters sent by the office of the finance minister.”
Far away, in Uttar Pradesh, an unperturbed Mukherjee continued with his campaign. He met Mulayam Singh Yadav at a lunch that the ruling Samajwadi Party supremo hosted in his honour. He also met with SP legislators and MLAs of other parties. Members of the Opposition BSP and BJP skipped the event.
This evening, Mukherjee met MLAs of the Congress, RLD and other allies over tea, while BSP supremo Mayawati hosted a dinner for him. Present at the banquet were Union Coal Minister Shriprakash Jaiswal, Union Minister of State for Parliament-ary Affairs Rajiv Shukla, UPPCC chief Rita Bahuguna Joshi and CLP leader Pramod Tiwari—all Congress leaders.