Congress president Sonia Gandhi has been asked by her party to pick its candidate for the presidential election, to be held in July. At a meeting of the Congress Working Committee, the highest decision-making body of the party, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee moved a resolution authorizing Mrs Gandhi to select the candidate. There is much being read into this -Mr Mukherjee was believed to be a front-runner for his party's nomination, but sources say the fact that he was asked to move the resolution suggest his chances may have dimmed.
After the Working Committee session concluded, Mrs Gandhi met BJP president Nitin Gadkari. He said he wanted to invite her for his son's wedding, but there is speculation about whether the presidential election was discussed. The Congress is keen on building as much consensus as possible ahead of the poll.
Mrs Gandhi said last month that no names had been finalised, but so far, the top contenders were Mr Mukherjee and Vice-President Hamid Ansari. Mrs Gandhi is also chairperson of the Congress-led UPA; her emissaries have been consulting other members of the coalition like Sharad Pawar and Mamata Banerjee for their feedback.
When Mr Mukherjee was asked by reporters today what he thought of his chances, he said, "She (Sonia Gandhi) is the leader of the UPA, she will consider all choices. The Party nominee is always decided by the Congress President."
Some BJP leaders had said that they would like their party to field its own candidate ; the Presidential election will be a major prestige point ahead of the general elections in 2014. The system of proportional representation makes it key for the Congress to have its allies on board. The votes of all MPs are at par with the elected members of all state assemblies. This gives regional parties major clout in the poll.
Mr Pawar and Ms Banerjee have both said they will wait for a formal announcement of the Congress's candidate before deciding on their support. Mr Pawar has said he will not back his own partyman, PA Sagma, who is being endorsed by the chief ministers of Tamil Nadu and Odisha. Ms Banerjee is likely to base her support on whether the centre agrees to a moratorium on thousands of crores that her West Bengal government owes as interest on loans.
Mulayam Singh Yadav, who provides external support to the UPA, has indicated his preference for Mr Mukherjee as the coalition's candidate - he has repeatedly said that he would like to see a politician as President.