Trinamool Congress chief and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Thursday held a meeting with Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav to discuss the issue of finding a consensus candidate for the Presidential polls.
Through the day, Banerjee sought to meet Yadav, whom she finally met in the evening. She also had a 25-minute meeting with Congress President Sonia Gandhi. Her meeting with Mulayam Singh Yadav was followed by a 20-minute interaction with Ahmed Patel, Sonia Gandhi’s secretary.
Sources said Banerjee might come out with a consensus candidate for the non-Congress and non-BJP parties after having met with Yadav. This means that another name may be added to the list of candidates for the top post. That Banerjee was keeping all her “options open” was apparent from the hour-long meeting with Yadav. She later said, “Whatever we decide, we will decide jointly.”
Banerjee ruled out her party’s support to Pranab Mukherjee for the top post. “Pranab Mukherjee? Is he a candidate? He has been rejected by the Congress,” Banerjee told reporters in Parliament, possibly referring to a remark by Congress spokesperson Renuka Chowdhary earlier in the day that Pranab Mukherjee was too important in the government to be spared for the top post. This was, however, clarified quickly by the Congress, which asserted that Mukherjee was highly valued by the party and could be fielded for any post.
When reminded that West Bengal has never had either a president or a prime minister, Banerjee retorted, “I am not parochial. I am from India and I am an Indian.” When asked “are you not for Pranab Mukherjee?” her reply was, “You can write. It is still open”.
When mediapersons asked her if she was also opposed to the candidature of Vice President Hamid Ansari, as there was a perception that the Left parties had proposed his name, she said, “This is a wrong perception.” “We had four or five MPs at that time (in 2007) and we all voted for him (Hamid Ansari),” she said.
Yesterday, Trinamool Congress MPs met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to lobby for a moratorium on repayment of West Bengal’s debt for three years, which amounts to around Rs 20,000 crore. The MPs handed the PM a letter seeking his help on the matter — pointing out that such a moratorium had been offered to Punjab in the past. The PM accepted the letter, but asked the MPs to prepare a note. This was prepared and handed over to the PM today. Accordingly, a meeting between Mamata Banerjee and the PM was scheduled for today, but was postponed for tomorrow.
Several finance ministry officials, including Expenditure Secretary Sumit Bose, were seen going in and coming out of Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee’s office all day today. In between, Sonia Gandhi had a meeting with Pranab Mukherjee and the PM, suggesting serious consultations were on to secure Banerjee’s support on a raft of initiatives, including her support in the presidential election.
Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Rajiv Shukla, however, said “we have the numbers to ensure our candidate is elected”, indicating an election may be on the cards.
Meanwhile, adding to the disgruntlement of National Democratic Alliance (NDA) parties, the Shiv Sena on Thursday said it did not necessarily concur with Sushma Swaraj’s observation that NDA would not work with Congress for the President of India, as it would have to fight the Congress in the 2014 election.
The Janata Dal United and the Akali Dal have already made their displeasure known at the BJP’s hectoring tone and its tendency to speak for allies of the NDA without consulting them first. The BJP is now reconciled to the fact that if it proposes a candidate, there will be an election, and its candidate will lose.
A top BJP leader said, “We’ve lost the game without even participating in it.” An Akali Dal MP said, “We might have had a fighting chance if we had zeroed in on a proper candidate”.