New Delhi: After being hospitalised for food poisoning, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi rang West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee to secure a meeting on Monday in Delhi.
- Congress chief Sonia Gandhi hospitalised for food poisoning
- Phones Mamata Banerjee, gets Monday meeting
- Congress leads efforts for a joint opposition candidate for President
Mrs Gandhi, who is 70, is leading the opposition's mission to put up a candidate for President of India. If an election is held, the government is likely to win it with ease, a fact acknowledged by opposition leaders, who say their real agenda is the inception of a sprawling front to take on the ruling BJP in the general election that is two years away.
Mrs Gandhi has already met with heavyweights like Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and Sharad Pawar who chiefs the Nationalist Congress Party or NCP. Her son, Rahul Gandhi, who is No 2 in the Congress, has conferred with the Left's Sitaram Yechury and Akhilesh Yadav. Ms Banerjee's support will be solicited by the Congress president on Monday.
Mrs Gandhi returned from the United States in April where she underwent a medical check-up for an illness that is several years old, but whose details have not been disclosed by either her party or family. She did not campaign for the election in Uttar Pradesh earlier this year, leaving it to her son and daughter, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, to run party strategy. The Congress collected its worst-ever result in the politically prized state, which is also home to the Gandhi family's constituencies of Rae Bareli and Amethi.
Pranab Mukherjee, a former senior Congress leader and minister, was elected President in 2012 defeating PA Sangma, the independent candidate of the BJP-led coalition that was then the opposition. His term expires in July. He has reportedly indicated that he would consider a second term only if the opposition and the government agree on his extension. The government, sources say, is keen on holding an election given its wildly successful results in Uttar Pradesh and other states in recent months which have increased the government's share of seats in the Upper House or Rajya Sabha, where it is still in a minority (it dominates the Lok Sabha or Lower House)
The President is chosen by an electoral college consisting of national and state law-makers.
Should an election be held, the BJP and its allies are about 25, 000 votes short. Support from a regional party- options include the ruling parties of Tamil Nadu and Telangana- could easily cover the deficit.
In Bihar in 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi conducted an exhaustive campaign but lost the state to a combination -a maha-gathbandhan - of regional bosses Nitish Kumar and Lalu Yadav, and the Congress. Their combined support groups overcame the BJP. It is through this sort of interlinking alone that it can attempt to stymie the PM's vast public support and a second term, the opposition has said. A contest for Rashtrapati Bhawan, the presidential palace, could provide crucial how-to tips for 2019.