"Sonia Gandhi requested Sharad Pawar to be the opposition's candidate for President, but he has asked her to find someone else," said NCP spokesperson Nawab Malik.
The NCP assesses that the opposition does not have the strength and support to field a seasoned and senior leader like its party chief for President. It would not like Mr Pawar to be the losing candidate in a contest for the post. Party sources said the only way Mr Pawar could reconsider is if a united opposition can ensure that the BJP-led National Democratic Government is unable to get any more numbers in the electoral college than it already has.
That is a tough ask. The NDA has over 48 per cent votes and has already been offered support by at least one opposition party - the YSR Congress of Andhra Pradesh politician Jaganmohan Reddy. It hopes to pull over 10 per cent more votes with support from friendly parties like the AIADMK, Telangana Rashtra Samiti and Naveen Patnaik's Biju Janata Dal.
The unknown factor in the NDA however is the Shiv Sena, which has voted for the other side's candidate in the last two Presidential elections. The Shiv Sena has said Sharad Pawar will make a good President.
Sonia Gandhi has taken the lead to bring together opposition parties to field a common candidate for President against the BJP's nominee. Among the first opposition leaders she met was 76-year-old Sharad Pawar. Sonia Gandhi has also met West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee yesterday and earlier, the Left's Sitaram Yechury and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who has pitched for a second term for President Pranab Mukherjee.
But President Mukherjee, a former Congressman, has indicated that he will only consider a second term if he is nominated by the central government led by the BJP which, sources said, is keen to field one of its own.
Mamata Banerjee, who is reportedly keen on fielding Gopalkrishna Gandhi, 72, a former governor of Bengal, said after her meeting with Sonia Gandhi that no names were discussed, but the need for consensus was underscored.
"We want the entire opposition to get together and come out with a consensus candidate who will be good for the country," she said after the 40-minute meeting in which Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi was also present.
Sources said all opposition parties will meet once the dates are announced for the presidential elections, to be held in July when President Mukherjee's term ends.
The opposition is also waiting to see who the NDA fields for President.
While they acknowledge that it will be hard for their candidate to win, they say they want to challenge the BJP. They are also seen to be testing ground for a larger alliance to take on the BJP in the 2019 general election when Prime Minister Narendra Modi will seek a second term.