The race for Rashtrapati Bhawan is hotting up. A day after Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar reportedly said that a consensus should be evolved over who the next president should be, the Samajwadi Party has once again put its weight behind Dr APJ Abdul Kalam.
"In 2002, Mulayam Singh had forwarded the name of Abdul Kalam for the Presidentship. We don't have any problem if Mr Kalam becomes President," SP leader Shahid Siddiqui said today.
Becoming the first UPA leader to express in public his preference for the presidential candidate, Mr Pawar had said yesterday that he feels that "a non-political person can be an ideal choice." Today, Mr Pawar denied making any such statement.
"All I have said that after seeing UPA and NDA numbers, all political parties need to sit together and an agreed candidate should be chosen and a dialogue process should be initiated. I never said non-political, I said agreed candidates. It was reported as apolitical," Mr Pawar said.
The race for Rashtrapati Bhawan has resulted in most unlikely of political friendships. There are reports that Samajwadi Party and the Trinamool Congress may join hands for the presidential polls. Mr Kiranmay Nanda, a Samajwadi Party leader from West Bengal and a Rajya Sabha MP met West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee last Tuesday for over an hour. He is believed to have discussed alignment for the Presidential elections to be held in June this year to find a successor to Pratibha Patil. The last day for filing the nomination is May 24.
The Samajwadi Party leaders also met with their counterparts in the AIADMK on Thursday. Reports suggest that former President APJ Abdul Kalam could emerge as a consensus candidate.
This could be one more Mamata headache for the Congress, which leads a government at the Centre that needs all its allies and any other support it can gather to make up numbers to put its candidate in the Rashtrapati Bhawan, if it comes to a contest.
The UPA does not have a majority in the electoral college that elects the President - the Congress on its own has 31 per cent of the total votes and the UPA as a whole is estimated to have 40 per cent. The NDA does not have a majority either - the BJP has about 24 per cent on its own and the NDA has 30 per cent votes.
From its huge victory in Uttar Pradesh recently, the SP gets to the table a sizeable number of votes in the electoral college that elects the President of India. Together with the Trinamool, it can make a substantial difference in deciding who will be the next President. Sources say party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav and senior leader Ram Gopal Yadav have had several rounds of talk and have even prepared a list of candidates. Other regional parties that would play a role in a contest would be the AIADMK, the BSP and the BJD.
The Congress has also for some time now been looking at Mulayam Singh's Samajwadi Party as a potential alternative big ally to Mamata Banerjee, who has not been a very supportive partner at the best of times.
How the President is elected:
An electoral college of all elected MPs and MLAs of all state legislatures elect the President. India has 776 MPs and 4120 MLAs. Each MP's vote has a value of 708, an MLA's vote value differs from state to state. Total value of votes of all 4,120 MLAs is 5,49,474. Total value of votes of all 776 MPs is 5,49,408.