New Delhi: Update: In a political googly, Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee and Samajwadi Party president Mulayam Singh on Wednesday proposed three new names for President: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, former Speaker Somnath Chatterjee and former president APJ Abdul Kalam.
While Kalam and Chatterjee were expected choices, suggesting Singh's name appears to be a direct challenge to the Congress. It remains to be seen how the Congress responds to these suggestions. What is clear is that the political game over the choice of President has clearly become more complex.
Earlier report: Following her meeting with UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee said on Wednesday that the first choice of the Congress for the post of the president is Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee.
Banerjee said, "Sonia told me that the first choice of the Congress for President is Pranab Mukherjee." The West Bengal Chief Minister added that the second choice of the Congress is Vice-President Hamid Ansari.
However, Banerjee said that she told the Congress president that she cannot comment on the UPA's choice at the moment. Following the meeting with the UPA chairperson, the Trinamool Congress chief went to the residence of Samajwadi Party supremo Mulayam Singh for further discussions.
This comes just hours after reports suggested that Banerjee was likely to veto the candidature of Pranab Mukherjee for the presidential poll, which could have been a setback to the Union Finance Minister in the race to the Rashtrapati Bhawan. However, the latest development has in fact revived the hopes for the veteran Congress leader. With Banerjee making the choices of the Congress public, it has now become even more difficult for the UPA to back off if she were to object to Mukherjee's candidature.
So long as Banerjee and Sonia could have discussed the issue in private, negotiations may have been possible. But now that Sonia's choices have been made public by the Trinamool Congress chief, she may find it practically impossible to go back on the names.
The veteran Congress leader's chances have also brightened taking into consideration the fact that Mulayam Singh Yadav, according to sources, is not opposed to Mukherjee's becoming President. However, there could still be twists in this tail, given the unpredictable natures of some of the players and still-fluid equations between the Congress and its allies in the UPA.
Meanwhile, the CPI has said that both Mukherjee as well as Ansari are unacceptable to the party as President.
Key UPA ally NCP has, however, said they are okay with both the candidates.
The key questions:
1. Can Sonia afford not to propose Pranab's name at this late stage?
2. Does Mamata have veto power over the UPA's presidential nominee?
3. How will the Congress accommodate Pranab Mukherjee if he is not made President?
4. Is it possible to evolve a consensus over any other candidate?
5. Is it true that the PM also wants a new face in the Finance Ministry?