New Delhi: Pranab Mukherjee
may find the last leg of his journey to Rashtrapati Bhavan surprisingly easy - he's within striking distance of being elected unopposed. At a meeting this evening at the Prime Minister's house, the UPA finally declared Mr Mukherjee as its candidate for President of India. An hour later, the must-have support of Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati had been landed. The Left seemed open to persuasion. Former President APJ Kalam
, seen as a rival candidate, conveyed that he was unwilling to stand against the Finance Minister. And the opposition BJP hinted broadly that it could support Mr Mukherjee most likely in return for its own man as Vice-President. (Pranab Mukherjee for President, says UPA: Top 10 facts
At the UPA meeting, not attended by estranged member Mamata Banerjee, the Congress made it clear that it is trying to get other parties to back Mr Mukherjee. "The UPA appeals to all political parties, MPs and members of state legislative assemblies to support the candidature of Pranab Mukherjee for office of president," said Mrs Gandhi, who is chairperson of the coalition. Mr Mukherjee is expected to resign from the Finance Ministry on June 24 after the Prime Minister returns from the G-20 summit in Mexico. "I accept this offer with all humility," he said, "I have been fortunate to receive love, affection and the confidence of my party colleagues and also members and leaders of other political parties... I will now again seek their indulgence and support for the next few weeks," he added. He singled out Ms Banerjee, describing her as his younger sister, and urged her to change her mind about backing him. She has so far refused, stating that Mr Kalam remains her only choice. "If you think the game is over, you are wrong," she said this evening. (Watch: Pranab appeals to parties for support
Wooing her back to its fold will preoccupy the Congress later. For now, the focus is on winning other parties over. The Prime Minister has phoned the Leader of the Opposition, Sushma Swaraj, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar and Left leader Sitaram Yechury. Mr Yadav confirmed his support within minutes. And with Mr Kalam unwilling to take on Mr Mukherjee, the BJP may vote in favour of the Finance Minister. "The ideal situation is that it is with consensus that the president should be chosen," said BJP spokesperson Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi. The BJP will consult with its partner, Sharad Yadav of the JD(U).
Without Ms Banerjee, the Congress and its allies have 38 per cent of the vote for President. With Mr Yadav and Mayawati, who has agreed to back Mr Mukherjee, they hit 48 per cent. To cross the 50 per cent mark, they have lobbied the Left, which sources say will take a decision on June 21.
As the chips stack up for Mr Mukherjee and other parties, Ms Banerjee, a power player till this morning, appeared isolated. Though she belongs to the UPA, she skipped this evening's meeting, after announcing that she remained determined to support only Mr Kalam for a second term in office. In this, she insisted, she was joined by Mr Yadav. He left her stranded, opting to support the UPA. When asked about his change of heart, he said that Mr Mukherjee is a capable candidate, and that he is backing him after his choices for president were rejected. (Read: Trinamool calls Mulayam a traitor
On Wednesday evening, he had stood next to Ms Banerjee as they squarely rejected Mr Mukherjee for President and more shockingly, suggested the Prime Minister be moved to that office. The Congress was stunned. Ms Banerjee's track record of fighting the government she belongs to had prepped them to expect trouble from her. But Mr Yadav had been wooed and consulted by leaders as senior as Congress president Sonia Gandhi. He had shown every sign of being on the UPA's team. (Read: Kalam will contest, says Mamata, but he is undecided, so is NDA
The Congress exchanged angry words with Ms Banerjee, accusing her of political and ethical transgressions. With Mr Yadav, it worked the back channels, hoping to win back the man who has often bailed the government out in crises, but also has a record of political infidelity. (Read: Want to end it with Didi, writes West Bengal Congress to Delhi