NDTV Correspondent | Updated: June 15, 2012 00:30 IST
Trinamool Congress Chief Mamata Banerjee met Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav for the third time in two days on Thursday evening and emerged to say former president "APJ Abdul Kalam is our candidate." He will contest and win, she asserted. However, Mr Yadav does not seem to be entirely onboard with Ms Banerjee's plan. He has said that Mr Kalam is not the final candidate and that the Samajwadi Party had proposed three names.
Party president Sonia Gandhi met the Congress core committee after talks with the Prime Minister on Thursday; top Congress sources say its nominee for the next President of India is not final right now. A decision will be taken only after consultations with UPA allies at 11 am today. Sources said as of now the names of Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Vice President Hamid Ansari were the only two that were discussed. Also on the core group's plate, a decision on what to do with a problem like Mamata. Can the party stretch to 2014 and a full term without Trinamool Chief Mamata Banerjee in the UPA?
An aggressive Ms Banerjee has dared the Congress to break ties with her, saying she is "not scared of threats; we'll see if someone threatens us." She will not attend a UPA meeting today. She has accused the Congress of high-handedness, though she says she will not quit the UPA. But, she says, she will ask for a conscience vote.
In crisis management mode, the Congress has also summoned all its Chief Ministers to Delhi for an emergency meeting immediately. It wants to discuss its numbers in the electoral college and be sure of them.
The ruling party will carry its math to the UPA meeting today. Mrs Sonia Gandhi has met some allies like the DMK and the NCP. Both M Karunanidhi and Sharad Pawar, have promised to support the Congress's candidate. The election for President is on July 19, counting of votes, if required, will be on July 22.
So will it be a Pranab Mukherjee vs Abdul Kalam contest? The name of Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar's name is also suddenly doing the rounds as a possible dark horse. A Trinamool source said Mamata Banerjee in her talks with Sonia Gandhi on Wednesday had brought up Ms Kumar's name and said she was ready to contest. The sources said Mrs Gandhi did not agree, she said the Speaker was too junior for President. From the Left's AB Bardhan has come an isolated suggestion that a Dalit woman be sent to Rashtrapati Bhawan.
In its numerical calculations, the Congress needs all support it can garner for whoever its nominee for President eventually is. Pranab Mukherjee has spoken to Left leaders, including former West Bengal CM Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee; they have reportedly conveyed that it will be difficult for them to support an active Congress politician.
The Congress is also reportedly working backroom channels to try and win back Mulayam Singh Yadav, Samajwadi Party chief, from his current position beside Mamata Banerjee as a part of a new two-party pressure group. By taking on the Congress jointly, Mamata and Mulayam seem to be pushing for general elections earlier than 2014. Both performed exceptionally in recent elections in their states and are keen to capitalise on voter sentiment. Their bond is worrying for the Congress. Together, they command 11 per cent of the vote for president. Their alignment also means the Congress cannot think of replacing troublesome Mamata with Mulayam in the UPA.
The Congress has accused Mamata of betraying political and ethical sensibilities - it has used strong words saying she acted "without shame, without consultation". It says she should not have shared with reporters the details of her meeting with Sonia Gandhi on Wednesday. It has also taken strong offense to Ms Banerjee's suggestion that the Prime Minister be considered for President. The Congress said on Thursday morning that it cannot spare Dr Manmohan Singh from his role as Prime Minister. The party asserted that Dr Singh will remain in office till the general election in 2014.
The opposition NDA will also meet today to discuss its strategy for the Presidential elections. Former president Abdul Kalam is on the Mulayam and Mamata shortlist along with the PM and former speaker Somnath Chatterjee. BJP has in the past toyed with the idea of supporting Mr Kalam. But its ally, Nitish Kumar's JD(U), is not keen on that, say sources. If that changes, and the BJP-led NDA teams up with M&M for Mr Kalam, it has the numbers to get him elected.
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