It will be a Pranab Mukherjee versus Purno Sangma race to Rashtrapati Bhawan. A technical objection to Mr Mukherjee's nomination made by Team Sangma has been rejected by the returning officer, who has scrutinized and accepted Mr Mukherjee's nomination papers today. But the BJP, which is supporting Mr Sangma, will not give up yet, insisting that a letter furnished by Mr Mukherjee's team to counter its charges is forged.
Mr Sangma's election agent and BJD member of Parliament Bhartrihari Mahatab had sought yesterday that Mr Mukherjee be disqualified from the race as, he claimed, he held an office of profit as Chairman of the Indian Statistical Institute on the day that he filed his nomination papers last week. Team Mukherjee has said this is "factually incorrect," and Mr Mukherjee today submitted a copy of his resignation letter to the institute dated June 20, in a written reply on the objection made.
The letter is also signed by the President of the Kolkata-based institute, MGK Menon with a handwritten notation that says "accepted." The BJP says the copy of Mr Mukherjee's resignation letter is a fabricated one and Mr Mukherjee's signature on it is not genuine. (See letter)
In his reply filed today, Mr Mukherjee said, "I deny the averments. The objections have no factual basis and in fact are false. I tendered my resignation on (June) 20. It was accepted on the same date. The objection that I hold office of profit is misconceived and untenable."
After a long deposition and arguments by BJP leaders supporting Mr Sangma, the returning officer VK Agnihotri held that Mr Mukherjee had duly resigned and so did not hold an office of profit when he filed his nomination on June 28.
Pawan Kumar Bansal, Minister for Parliamentary Affairs and Mr Mukherjee's election agent pointed out that the matter ended here as, "under the law, the decision of the retuning officer cannot be challenged in a civil court."
Ananth Kumar of the BJP, however, said, "We allege that the resignation letter and the acceptance is a complete fabrication. The order of the returning officer is flawed. We expect the Election Commission to do justice. We will wait for a written order from the returning officer." However, like Mr Bansal, Election Commission sources also point out that the final decision in this matter is that of the Returning Officer.
The Indian Constitution, while defining qualifications for a Presidential candidate under Article 58, states that "A person shall not be eligible for election as President if he holds any office of profit under the Government of India or the Government of any State or under any local or other authority subject to the control of any of the said Governments."
Mr Mukherjee is the Congress-led UPA's candidate for the next President of India. His candidacy is supported by all UPA allies except the Trinamool Congress which is yet to state how it will vote. He is also supported by parties like the Samajwadi Party, BSP and RJD. Mr Mukherjee has also managed to garner the support of BJP ally the Janata Dal (United) and two Left parties - the COM and Forward Bloc. All that support adds up to more than 50 per cent of the electoral college.
While his papers were being scrutinized today, Mr Mukherjee was at lunch with UP chief minister Akhilesh Yadav in Lucknow. Mr Mukherjee is campaigning for the Presidential elections and UP is an important stop - nearly 1.6 lakh votes of the 10.9 lakh votes in the electoral college come from this state.
Mr Sangma is supported by the BJP and two regional parties, the AIADMK and the BJD. His team is ensuring that numbers or not it will put up a fight.