New Delhi: The race to the Rashtrapati Bhawan is not the marathon we all thought it would be, neither has it been a sprint. At the end of it, Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee has come out as the clear frontrunner. The UPA picked him as its presidential candidate and alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi made the announcement.
The name was declared after being endorsed by all UPA allies, except Trinamool Congress, which continues to voice support for former president APJ Abdul Kalam.
The clincher is the U-turn by the Samajwadi Party chief, Mulayam Singh Yadav. The seasoned politician from Uttar Pradesh ditched his new-found friend, Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee, and announced his support for Pranab.
Pranab has reached out to the Trinamool Congress chief, saying she is like a sister and he wants her to support his candidature.
His justification for the change in stand was: in politics, decisions are taken according to the development.
The Samajwadi Party chief said that the three names he gave along with the Trinamool Congress supremo were only suggestions.
However, the cornered lady from the West Bengal continued to remain defiant, asserting that the game was far from over, in fact it had just begun. Mamata said she would still be backing former president APJ Abdul Kalam in the race.
Besides the Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati also declared her support for the UPA candidate, saying Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi had reached out to her for supporting the veteran Congressman.
Key UPA ally DMK chief M Karunanidhi also wrote to UPA chairperson Sonia and Pranab, congratulating them on the decision.
Showering praises on Pranab, he wrote: "The allies of the UPA enthusiastically welcome the announcement and ensure his victory which is going to be an important part of history. He has a long and varied experience in this vast country, he is a powerful negotiator and a fearless orator, he is a great economist and understands very well the Indian economic situation."
Other expected support came in the form of Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief Lalu Prasad Yadav and Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) president Ram Vilas Paswan.
Former Bihar chief minister Lalu Prasad said, I request all the parties to support the candidature of Pranab Mukherjee. It is for the first time that somebody from West Bengal is going to be the President."
However, the Left, whose support can seal the contest completely, is yet to give its decision. Though Brinda Karat congratulated Pranab for the nomination, she said the Left Front would take a call on supporting him only after its meeting on June 21.
Meanwhile, almost minutes after the declaration of Pranab's candidature, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh reached out to the opposition parties, such as the BJP and the Left seeking support for him in the race.
He called up Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj, BJP president Nitin Gadkari and veteran leader L K Advani, Left leaders AB Bardhan and Brinda Karat asking them to back Pranab.
The Prime Minister also spoke to BJP ally and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.
Though the NDA has said that it is yet to take a decision on the presidential candidate and would do so in a meeting of the alliance in a day or two, it is quite unlikely that they would contest the candidature of Pranab.
While the Prime Minister initiated the move to reach out to other parties, the man of the moment, Pranab Mukherjee, also addressed the media thrice wherein he appealed to all the parties for their support in the presidential poll.
"I appeal to all political parties to extend their support for my candidature," said Pranab.
He specially reached out to Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee, saying, "Mamata is like my sister, I seek her support."
Pranab also said he was overwhelmed with the decision, and expressed his gratitude to the UPA chairperson.
The road to the Raisina Hill from the North Block seems clear for Pranab also because Kalam, according to sources, is unwilling to enter into a contest with the veteran politician. Kalam had said earlier as well that he would fight the elections only if he was assured of at least 60 per cent votes. But with Pranab in the fray and his candidature getting support from almost all corners, the former president is almost certain to bow out of the race. Notably, the Congress has also requested him formally that he should not contest the elections.