The Congress on Thursday launched a campaign to make Pranab Mukherjee the next President of India, isolating Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee in the United Progressive Alliance (UPA).
The Congress rejected the slate of three — Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, former President A P J Abdul Kalam and former Speaker Somnath Chatterjee — proposed by Mulayam Singh Yadav and Banerjee yesterday. The party said it had only two candidates, Mukherjee and Hamid Ansari. It said it would have had one but offered two in the interest of democracy. The allies knew their names and could support either, it said. But the three names suggested by the Yadav-Banerjee duo “stood rejected”.
Strongly endorsing the prime ministership of Manmohan Singh, the party said it was not in a position to spare him from government. That ended speculation Singh could be replaced with a more ‘winnable’ face in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections of 2014.
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Yadav’s Samajwadi Party has left the choice of presidential candidate open for now. “Only after consulting senior leaders will Yadav decide who the Samajwadi Party candidate should be. There is no final word on it yet,” news agency PTI quoted a party leader as having said.
What incensed the Congress was that Banerjee told party chief Sonia Gandhi yesterday her choice of names would not be made public — that she would merely discuss them with Yadav and revert. However, minutes after the meeting, Banerjee betrayed the confidence. “There is a dignity to the process. When such talks are held, names are not discussed outside,” Congress leader Janardan Dwivedi said.
Banerjee supporters said she had made the names of Mukherjee and Ansari public with Gandhi’s consent. The Trinamool has said it will skip a meeting of the UPA tomorrow, after which the alliance’s candidate will be formally named. Banerjee is understood to have told party leaders she has “no intention of toppling the UPA”. She said she was opposed to the Congress on the presidential election but “will quit UPA if the Congress thinks the party is unwanted.”
The West Bengal unit of the Congress hit back. “I will request all my party colleagues who are in the state Cabinet to quit. We will speak to Delhi before we take a final call,” West Bengal Congress President Pradip Bhattacharya said.
Mukherjee launched his campaign after a meeting with Gandhi, also attended by Congress leader Ahmad Patel, Defence Minister A K Antony and Home Minister P Chidambaram. He then spoke to West Bengal Left leaders Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Biman Bose to seek support. Though the CPI-M leadership was tight-lipped, political observers believed the Bengal wing of the party was willing to support Mukherjee. Initially, the CPI had reservations but CPI-M leader Prakash Karat phoned CPI leader A B Bardhan to ensure he was on board.