Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, according to sources, will run for President. He is expected to file his nomination papers on June 25, if he is ratified as the UPA candidate at a meeting of its allies today, which has begun. He reportedly remains the first choice of his party president and UPA chairperson, Sonia Gandhi. Congress sources say Mr Mukherjee will resign as Finance Minister on June 24, after the Prime Minister returns from the G-20 summit in Mexico. (If Pranab moves on, who'll be Finance Minister?)
Who will become the next President of India could rest largely on Mulayam Singh Yadav, the head of the Samajwadi Party. Congress sources say that back-channel talks have succeeded and that he is likely to support Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee. Mamata Banerjee, however, reiterated this morning that Mr Yadav, like her, remains committed to backing former President APJ Abdul Kalam for a second term. Without the support of Ms Banerjee, the UPA has about 38 per cent of the votes in the electoral college that will elect the President. To get past the 50% mark, the Congress is lobbying the Left. ( Who is Pranab Mukherjee?
| APJ Abdul Kalam
For now, Mr Yadav is keeping everyone guessing - he travelled to Lucknow via Agra and refused to comment on the presidential election there. A senior leader of his party and his brother, Ram Gopal Yadav, said Mr Yadav will make up his mind at a later point. The silver lining for the Congress is that Ram Gopal Yadav has said that contrary to popular belief, the Samajwadi Party does not want mid-term elections. Ram Gopal however made it clear that their party will not join the UPA coalition, but will continue to provide external support.
Ms Banerjee emphatically denied reports this morning that Mr Yadav is opting out of the liaison they have formed, throwing the Congress into a seizure. (President Kalam, 80, or President Pranab, 76? Top 10 facts)
"Our clarion call to all parties...is no jhagda...no ego...we should support APJ Kalam...he can bring glory to the country," Ms Banerjee said this morning, asserting that the nuclear scientist will run for President. But in Patna, Dr Kalam was circumspect, saying that he would make a decision at a later time. He confirmed that different political leaders - he did not name them - are in touch with him. (Kalam will contest, says Mamata, but he is undecided; so is NDA)
Sources say he will not contest the election if there's a chance that he could lose. Without Mr Yadav's numbers, Mr Kalam would find it tough to be elected. The opposition BJP is watching the Congress closely. It is not opposed to supporting the Finance Minister, but it has also toyed with backing Dr Kalam. (Your choice for President? Vote Here)
Just in case Mr Yadav does not deliver, the Congress has phoned its allies ahead of today's group meeting and warned that the Mamata-Mulayam combine was trying to topple the government.
Ms Banerjee and Mr Yadav would stand to benefit from mid-term elections because they delivered stellar performances in recent elections in their state, and would like to leverage voter sentiment before their honeymoon period expires.
Both the Trinamool Congress and the Samajwadi Party are critical to the government's survival. Here is how the numbers add up in the Lok Sabha - the UPA including the Trinamool make up 274 MPs. The Samajwadi Party has 22 seats in the Lok Sabha, with which it offers outside support. Without the Trinamool's 20 MPs, and the Samajwadi Party out of the equation, the government will be reduced to a minority of 255, and forced to look for outside support elsewhere. In the electoral college, the two have a crucial 11 per cent and, as such, can push for Dr Kalam as President with the help of the opposition alliance NDA and some others. (The mathematics of India's presidential poll)