Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called up West Bengal Chief Minister and ally Mamata Banerjee on Wednesday to ensure her Trinamool Congress is represented at Saturday's UPA meeting, said Trinamool leader Kunal Ghosh. Ms Banerjee has reportedly assured Dr Singh that Railways Minister Mukul Roy, who is a Trinamool leader, will represent the party at the meeting in Delhi. The agenda will be the election for vice-president and the meeting may be used to gauge Ms Banerjee's flexibility on Hamid Ansari's candidature and build consensus around him with other UPA members.
Ms Banerjee has never been a fan of Mr Ansari, largely because the Left endorsed him for the post five years ago. The Bengal Chief Minister's party has said it upsets them to even contemplate voting on the same side as the Left.
Unwilling to provoke Ms Banerjee before the vote for President is held, the Congress is being careful as it tries to explore what sort of support it can rally for a second consecutive term for Mr Ansari as vice-president.
Ms Banerjee is the sole member of the UPA to have withheld support for Congress-led UPA's candidate Pranab Mukherjee in the President polls to be held later this month. Ms Banerjee has said she will decide whether to back Mr Mukherjee or opposition candidate PA Sangma three days before the election which will take place on July 19.
Mr Mukherjee is busy campaigning across the country as the official candidate of the UPA. However, his trip to Bengal did not yield a meeting with Ms Banerjee. The Congress hopes that the Trinamool chief will ask her MPs and state legislators to vote for Mr Mukherjee.
Even without Ms Banerjee, the Congress and its allies tally 444 MPs -well past the 396 votes they need to get Mr Ansari a second term. However, in an attempt to build support for Mr Ansari, the Prime Minister today called CPI's AB Bardhan and Sudhakar Reddy. Dr Manmohan Singh had earlier met CPM leader Prakash Karat.
The election for vice-president will be held in August. The BJP has not yet decided whether it will put up a candidate against the UPA's nominee to ensure that there is an election. In the case of Mr Mukherjee, the party felt that it could not be perceived as voting on the same side as the government. The fact that the general elections are slotted for 2014 has the opposition working overtime to prove it can take on the UPA.
If Mr Ansari has, like Mr Mukherjee, the potential to pitt Ms Banerjee against the rest of the UPA, he could also divide the BJP-led coalition, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). Nitish Kumar, the chief minister of Bihar whose Janata Dal (United) is a senior member of the coalition, is keen to support Mr Ansari.
Mr Kumar has already broken ranks with the BJP to commit his party's support to Mr Mukherjee for president. So has the Shiv Sena, another NDA member.
Mr Ansari was at one point running neck-to-neck with Mr Mukherjee as the Congress' candidate for President. However, party head Sonia Gandhi chose the former finance minister, who was then accepted by other members of the UPA as their candidate. Ms Banerjee skipped the meeting where the coalition formally announced him as their contender.