Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, believed by many to be the front-runner among those vying to be the next President of the country, will have an exacting Monday. Mr Mukherjee is to meet the Finance Minister of West Bengal, Amit Mitra. The state wants Mr Mukherjee to indicate at the earliest whether it will waive 22,000 crores that Bengal owes as interest on loans from the Centre.
Mamata Banerjee, the Chief Minister of Bengal and the head of Mr Mitra's party, has so far kept the Congress guessing about whether she will support the party in its choice of candidate for the Presidential election, likely in July. The assumption is that her decision will depend on whether the Centre approves the financial package she has asked for. Sources say Ms Banerjee is unlikely to oppose Mr Mukherjee's candidacy, but wants to use the issue to tighten the screws on the government for the money her state needs.
The problem is that if Mr Mukherjee cannot show preferential treatment to Ms Banerjee on money matters just because she is a member of the UPA. Also, if he agrees to her wishlist, other states reeling from debt like Punjab and Kerala will also seek favours.
The Congress has been carefully talking to all its allies including Ms Banerjee to find a candidate who evokes consensus among the different members of the UPA coalition.
According to reports, DMK leaders TR Baalu, MK Stalin and Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav have said they will support Mr Mukherjee's candidature.