Kalam opts out of presidential fight

New Delhi: Former President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam Monday said he won’t contest the presidential election after studying the “totality” of the situation, spiking what could have been a high-profile battle with Pranab Mukherjee.

The decision disappointed Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which were keen to pit the former missile scientist who was also India’s head of state from 2002 to 2007.

In a brief statement after days of speculation, Kalam said he was urged to contest by many politicians and other Indian citizens.

“Though I have never aspired to serve another term or shown interest in contesting, Mamata Banerjee, other political parties wanted me to be their candidate,” he said.

“Many, many citizens have also expressed the same wish. It only reflects their love and affection for me and the aspiration of the people.

“I am really overwhelmed… This being their wish, I respect it. I want to thank them for the trust they have in me.”

“I have considered the totality of the matter and the present political situation and decided not to contest the presidential election,” he said.

Informed sources said the former President conveyed his decision first to BJP leader L.K. Advani, who telephoned him twice requesting him to contest next month against Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) nominee Mukherjee.

Sudheendra Kulkarni, a former aide to Advani, also met Kalam twice Monday in a bid to persuade him to change his mind.

But Kalam, who had also been consulting his close friends in recent days, eventually decided not to plunge into the electoral battle, perhaps realizing that his chances of winning are near nil.

But unlike in 2002 when he emerged a clear winner with only the Left opposed to him, this time some sections of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) were themselves not eager to field him.

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar (JD-U) and the Akali Dal favour a president who is elected by consensus.

But Mamata Banerjee has come out strongly against Mukherjee. And former Lok Sabha speaker Purno Sangma refuses to withdraw from the race although only the AIADMK and Biju Janata Dal are backing him.

The Congress appeared to be happy over Kalam’s decision. And so was Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav, who declared in Lucknow that “the Kalam chapter” was now over.

Kalam has been awarded the Padma Bhushan, Padma Vibhushan and Bharat Ratna, the country’s highest civilian award.

He spearheaded the weaponization of India’s strategic missile systems, and was involved in the 1998 nuclear tests too.

As of now, Mukherjee appears to be a clear favourite to occupy the Rashtrapati Bhavan.

The presidential election, if it takes place, will be held July 19. The results will be declared three days later.