New Delhi: The race to the President office on Thursday witnessed lots of politics and speculation, but no decisions appeared in sight. A day after the royal snub by Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee along with Samajwadi Party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav, the Congress worked on all fronts to isolate the West Bengal Chief Minister.
The party in fact began attempts to build consensus within the UPA on its choices, with Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee remaining its first choice.
The Congress also came out strongly in defence of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh insisting that he would continue in the job and finish his term till 2014, pointing that the party had made the commitment to the people of the country in the beginning of the tenure of the UPA-II itself.
The Congress is working on all fronts to isolate Mamata and build a consensus within the UPA on its choices for the Presidential poll.
In a cautious move, the party also delayed its UPA meet to Friday evening in order to meet more allies.
Mamata Banerjee, maintaining her tough stand, announced later in the day that she would skip that meet and even dared the Congress to drop her out of the UPA if they found her to be a liability. She even met Mulayam Singh again and claimed that former APJ Abdul Kalam was their first choice for the President.
Sources, however, suggested differences between the Trinamool Congress chief and the Samajwadi Party supremo. According to sources, while Mamata made her final choice for Kalam, Mulayam wanted all three candidates named earlier. The Samajwadi Party chief is likely to clarify his stand before the media on Friday.
The Trinamool chief has also denied Congress allegations of naming candidates without Sonia Gandhi's consent.
Amidst the drama emerged the name of a dark horse in the form of Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar, whose name is likely to be discussed at the UPA meeting on Friday along with those of Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Vice President Hamid Ansari.
With several names being proposed for the next President of India, the race for the Rashtrapati Bhawan is turning into a political minefield with new alliances and partnerships in the offing even as the next Lok Sabha elections are two years away. The last two days have so many twists and turns in the run-up to the Presidential poll that it would put the driving abilities of even an accomplished Formula One driver under severe test.
The Congress on Thursday tried to reassert its authority as the dominant partner in the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) a day after Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee’s royal snub to its nominees. While Mamata and Samajwadi Party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav dismissed the choices of Congress president Sonia Gandhi for the President, the grand old party of India hit back saying the possible candidature of Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Vice-President Hamid Ansari was intact.
In the wake of the developments since Wednesday evening, the Congress speeded up its efforts to gather support for its candidate, which is yet to be officially named, and is also exploring options to isolate Banerjee on the issue.
UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi has called a meeting of the alliance on Friday at 4 pm. The Trinamool Congress chief has said that she would not attend the meeting, however, maintaining that she would continue to be a part of the UPA.
Earlier on Thursday, lashing out at the West Bengal Chief Minister, the Congress accused her of breaking the decorum by revealing the names of the candidates discussed with UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi. The party also rejected the candidature of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for the presidential poll.
Addressing a press conference, Dwivedi said, "When you discuss with your allies, names are also discussed. After discussion with all the allies, both big as well as small, two names had come up – Pranab and Ansari – and this was conveyed by the Congress president to Mamata. But she made it public after the meeting."
He further said, "Had it been the final choice of the Congress, it would have been two names, and now two. Therefore, it is clear that no final decision has been taken by the party till now."
Referring to the candidature of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, suggested by Yadav and Banerjee, the Congress said that it was out of question as the party had committed to the people of the country that "Manmohan Singh will remain the Prime Minister till 2014".
Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni also took on the Trinamool Congress chief saying, "For a senior responsible leader to walk from serious discussions with UPA chairperson to a press conference and disclose names doesn't make political or ethical sense."
She also said that taking the name of a sitting Prime Minister for the President's post was not right. "Such lack of courtesy, not even a discussion with the Prime Minister. This has never happened before," said Soni.
Reacting to the attack, a defiant Trinamool Congress said that the party chief had not broken any decorum as she was authorised by Sonia to reveal the names discussed in the meeting.
"Mamata has not broken any decorum. Sonia gave consent to Mamata when she asked if she can tell the reporters what happened in the meeting. She also informed Sonia that she will tell the two names. There is also no change in the stand of Samajwadi Party," said TMC MP Kunal Ghosh.
Meanwhile, the UPA chairperson also met NCP chief Sharad Pawar almost an hour ahead of the core group meeting. According to sources, Pawar has assured that he will support the official candidate of the UPA.
The meeting came just hours after Sonia met DMK MP T R Balu along with Home Minister P Chidambaram and Defence Minister A K Antony. Keeping his cards open, Balu reportedly told the Congress chief that the party might swing towards former president APJ Abdul Kalam if there is consensus around his name, but in case the Congress manages to gather support for its candidate, the DMK will back the official UPA candidate.
Sonia has also invited Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav to hold a discussion of the issue, where she is likely to convince the Uttar Pradesh strongman to give up his suggestions and support whoever the UPA puts up as the official candidate.
If sources are to be believed, it is unlikely that the former Uttar Pradesh chief minister will go against the choice of the Congress chief.
Following the meeting with Sonia, Yadav will on Friday chair a parliamentary board meeting of the Samajwadi Party of Thursday evening. Sources say that the Samajwadi Party supremo will again meet the Trinamool Congress chief after his party meet.
Apparently making an attempt to isolate the West Bengal Chief Minister over the issue, Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, who is a frontrunner in the race to the Rashtrapati Bhawan, on Thursday also spoke to former West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, seeking support for the UPA candidate. According to sources, the Left leader assured the Finance Minister that they would consider the request in a Left Front meeting, which would be held after the UPA announces its candidate.
The NDA, on the other hand, is also trying to reach a consensus over the presidential poll.
While the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is yet to name a candidate, its key ally Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) has said that it is willing to support Kalam for President.
Veteran BJP leader LK Advani on Thursday met AIADMK chief J Jayalalithaa in Chennai to discuss the poll. Following her meeting with Advani, the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister said that the entire exercise of selecting the candidate for the President's post has been botched by the Congress. She said there has not been any consensus on a candidate.
In other developments, the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) reiterated that former Lok Sabha Speaker P A Sangma was their candidate and still in the race. Also, the West Bengal Congress hit out at Mamata Banerjee saying the UPA could survive without her and it was up to her to decide as to when she wanted to leave the coalition.
If all the developments are taken into consideration, the race to the Rashtrapati Bhawan still appears to be wide open, with a consensus eluding the poll till now. Former president APJ Abdul Kalam, one of the names suggested by Mamata and Mulayam, is possibly in close race with veteran Congress troubleshooter Pranab Mukherjee.
Kalam, who was earlier unwilling to contest a poll, has now said that he would fight if he is assured of getting at least 60 per cent votes, whereas, Pranab has maintained that the UPA would soon declare its candidate.
Taking into consideration the stands of different parties, it appears that while around 37 per cent votes are in favour of the Finance Minister, approximately 40 per cent are likely to swing towards the former president.
However, 20 per cent of the vote share are yet to be decided upon, and that would decided as to who gets the key to the Rashtrapati Bhawan.
Here is a look at where the parties stand on Pranab and Kalam's candidature:
10, 98, 882: Total number of votes (5,49,408 of MPs and 5,49,474 of MLAs)
5,49,442: Minimum votes required for President to be elected
Support for Pranab
Congress + DMK + NCP + NC + RJD + RLD = 413558 votes (37.6 per cent)
Support for Kalam
BJP + AIADMK + BJD + TDP + SP + TMC = 462896 votes (42 per cent)
Magic Figure: 549442
JDU + LEFT + BSP + Others = 222428 votes (20.4 per cent)
The big questions:
Is Mamata's exit from the UPA inevitable?
Will Mamata quit UPA is Sonia insists on Pranab?
Will Kalam fight Pranab in a contest?
Will SP break ranks with Mamata and back UPA candidate?
- Differences between Mamata, Mulayam?
- If Cong feels I am a liability, I'm ready to leave: Mamata
- Kalam is our candidate and he will win: Mamata
- President post: Crucial UPA meeting on Friday
- Presidential poll: A game changer for the UPA?
Can Sonia-Manmohan leadership survive the Presidential poll crisis?