File photo: Prakash Karat with Pranab Mukherjee
The four parties that make up the Left have decided their stand on the election for President of India. Two - the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), and the Forward Bloc - have said they will support Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, who is the candidate of the UPA. The CPI and the the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) will abstain from the July 19 vote.
The Left together holds 4% of the vote.
"We have agreed to disagree," said Sitaram Yechury of the CPM, which will back Mr Mukherjee.
The Prime Minister and Mr Mukherjee had phoned Left leaders, seeking their support. "Pranab Mukherjee has the widest acceptance, but we will continue to oppose the UPA government's neo-liberal policies," said CPM general secretary, Prakash Karat.
Mr Mukherjee is taking on PA Sangma, who is the candidate of the BJP, Odisha chief minister Navin Patnaik and Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa. Based on these parties, Mr Sagnma is likely to get about 30% of the vote.
By siding with Mr Mukherjee, the CPM has outwitted political rival Mamata Banerjee, who defeated the Left in a historic election last year. Ms Banerjee, who is the Chief Minister of West Bengal, would not like to support a candidate endorsed by the CPM. However, she could offend voters if she does not support Mr Mukherjee, a tall leader from her home state.
To add to her problems, some within her party could vote for Mr Mukherjee anyway, since the election for President is held using a secret ballot.
Ms Banerjee may have made a massive political miscalculation earlier this month, when she rejected Mr Mukherjee as the UPA's candidate, though she belongs to the coalition. At the time, she had paired with Mulayam Singh Yadav, who heads the Samajwadi Party. Together, they said their three choices for President included nuclear scientist Abdul Kalam, former speaker Somnath Chatterjee and the Prime Minister. The Congress correctly took that as a huge insult to the PM by its allies. But Mr Yadav then double-crossed Ms Banerjee and announced he would back the Finance Minister. The Congress has been urging Ms Banerjee to return to the fold.
However, the BJP has also appealed to her today to back Mr Sangma. Because Ms Banerjee is unlikely to want to vote on the same side as the BJP, she may ask her MPs and state legislators to abstain during the vote.