Mamta Banerjee and Mulayam Singh Yadav proved the Congress right in assuming their recent alignment is a dangerous liaison. After a meeting in Delhi this evening, Ms Banerjee and Mr Yadav declared their three choices for President -Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee wasn't among them. The Prime Minister was.
Ms Banerjee, who participates in the Congress-led UPA, and Mr Yadav who provides external support, together command almost 11% of the vote for the President of India's election. They said they would like to see former Left leader Somnath Chatterjee, former President APJ Abdul Kalam, or Dr Manomhan Singh set up base in Rashtrapati Bhawan. And with this, they made it clear that the election for President is very much being used by major players to prep the ground for the general election in 2014. (Vote for your choice of President)
For the Congress, the slights - both direct and veiled -are many. Most importantly, the Mulayam-Mamata comment on the PM suggests that the Congress' allies are losing faith in his leadership, and are willing to go public with it. There's also the fact that just over an hour before their announcement, Ms Banerjee had met Sonia Gandhi, who heads the Congress and is the chairperson of the UPA. Mrs Gandhi told Ms Banerjee that her first choice is Mr Mukherjee; Hamid Ansari is the runner-up.
Mrs Gandhi, who has been authorised by the Congress to choose its candidate for the election, scheduled for July 19, has been carefully consulting allies to ensure the party finds a consensus candidate. Mr Yadav had indicated his preference for Mr Mukherjee above Mr Ansari; Ms Banerjee had said she would not object to Mr Mukherjee but wanted the Congress to first declare him as its nominee.
As it turned out, it was Ms Banerjee who did the honours, revealing Mrs Gandhi's choices to reporters after their meeting.
However, it's not all over for Mr Mukherjee. Congress sources say they are now back to Square One and will consult all allies again to find a compromise. They believe Mr Yadav is flexible. Sources also say that Ms Banerjee will not veto Mr Mukherjee. The game plan, some in the Congress believe, is that Mr Yadav and the Bengal Chief Minister may support Mr Mukherjee; in exchange, they will want a candidate of their choice for Vice-President. Other allies of the Congress like M Karunanidhi, Sharad Pawar and Ajit Singh have said they want a strong President and see Mr Mukherjee in that role. DMK sources said this evening too that the party preferred Mr Mukherjee as the next President.
For now, the BJP has said that it will not announce its strategy till the Congress finalizes it candidate. The opposition party has reportedly not been closed to supporting Mr Mukherjee. But the Mamata-Mulayam list includes former president Kalam, a candidate the BJP had toyed with earlier; if these two parties and the BJP-ruled NDA back the former President for a second stint, with a bit of help they have the numbers to put him in Rashtrapati Bhawan.
What will remain a worry for the Congress is that Ms Banerjee has decimated the Congress' strategy to woo Mr Yadav into replacing her if it decides she is becoming too problematic a member of its coalition. Mr Yadav was given pride of place at a recent dinner for the UPA hosted by the PM. He was seated next to Mrs Gandhi at her table, and invite don stage along with those who actually partner in the coalition - Mr Yadav provides external support with his 22 Lok Sabha MPs.
The other concern for Mrs Gandhi and those who remain staunch supporters of the PM is whether a section of his party is disenchanted by his leadership in recent crises, both economic and political. There has been talk for months within the Congress of whether there will be a change in leadership ahead of 2014- at a recent meeting of the Congress Working Committee, the party's higest decision-making body, Mrs Gandhi made it clear that will not happen.
Mr Chatterjee, one of the unexpected candidates proposed by the Mulayam-Mamata combine, said that, "It's a great honour to be the first citizen of India but i never imagined, I never thought of it." THE PRESIDENTIAL MATH
If the Trinamool Congress (4.37% votes), Samajwadi Party (6%) and Mayawati's BSP support the UPA, the ruling combine will get 5,71,644 votes in its kitty. That will ensure that the UPA will have 52 per cent, a majority, of the overall votes. But if Ms Banerjee decides to go against the UPA candidate, UPA's vote share will drop to 5,25,719 votes at 48 per cent, shy of a majority.
If the SP and the TMC join hands with the NDA to back Dr Kalam, they have a combined 38.63% votes in the electoral college. The UPA without the TMC is 37.63%.
Non-NDA, non-UPA parties, including the SP make up 24% of the college. Smaller parties have 6% share.
The presidential election places at par the votes of all MPs with those of all elected members of state legislatures - so regional parties count for a lot. The electoral college for the presidential poll is 4896, constituting 776 Members of Parliament and 4120 Members of Legislative Assemblies, including those of Delhi and Puducherry. The total value of votes is 10,98,882 with that of MLAs being 5,49,474 and that of MPs being 5,49,408. Nominated members of Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha and state Assemblies are not entitled to vote.