Mulayam Singh Yadav almost gave the Congress a second jolt today. Like the first, a few weeks ago, it was to do with the presidential elections. Unlike the first, this would have been inadvertent. In a major sidelight, the Samajwadi Party chief reportedly ticked Purno Sangma's name while voting for the next President of India.
Mr Yadav, who is a Lok Sabha MP, was casting his vote at Parliament House. He realized his error in time and was seen tearing his ballot paper and then voting afresh. Mr Sangma is the BJP-led NDA's candidate against the UPA's Pranab Mukherjee in today's election.
The SP chief has staunchly and visibly been by Mr Mukherjee's side since his candidacy was announced by the Congress-led UPA. He was there when Mr Mukherjee filed his nomination papers and was even seen holding hands with senior Congress minister AK Antony. Later, when Mr Mukherjee reached Lucknow to campaign, he was given a red carpet welcome by the Samajwadi Party government that Mr Yadav's son, Akhilesh, heads. The Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister hosted Mr Mukherjee to a lavish lunch; Mr Yadav was present too.
But all that came later. For a brief spell of about two days in June, Mr Yadav had the Congress in a spin when he appeared in a cameo at the side of Mamata Banerjee to suggest the names of three people for President. Mr Mukherjee's name was not on the list; Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's was. This was a major embarrassment for the Congress as it suggested that allies and supporting parties had lost confidence in Dr Singh as PM.
Congress leaders said they had expected trouble from ally Ms Banerjee, whose Trinamool Congress is part of the UPA government, but not from Mr Yadav, who is not part of the government but who has bailed the Congress-led alliance out of sticky political situations more than once.
All was well, however, once Mr Mukherjee's name was officially announced as the UPA's candidate. The Mamata episode forgotten, Mr Yadav was quick to pledge his support.