United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Chairperson Sonia Gandhi on Friday named Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee as the alliance’s nominee for the Presidential election, after five rounds of parleys earlier in the day between the Congress party and Mulayam Singh Yadav, the Samajwadi Party (SP) chief.
In the course of the discussions, the Congress was successfully able to drive a wedge between Yadav and Mamata Banerjee of the Trinamool Congress (TMC), who had teamed up barely two days earlier to shoot down Mukherjee’s name. The details of how the agreement was reached to get Yadav’s support was not immediately known, but Congress sources said it did not include the promise of a place in the Union council of ministers.
The diminutive 77-year-old finance minister was endorsed by the entire UPA, barring Banerjee, who had decided not to attend the meeting of the alliance over the issue. Through the day, she stuck to her guns, supporting a second term for former President A P J Abdul Kalam. (Click for graphs)
Meanwhile, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief, Mayawati, addressing a press conference in Lucknow minutes after the formal announcement of Mukherjee’s name as the UPA nominee, pledged her party’s backing for him. “As both the PM and Gandhi have personally spoken to me, asking for my support, BSP endorses Mukherjee.”
There also were indications from the Bengal wing of CPI(M) today that the party would support Mukherjee.
“We are against the policies of the Congress, but there’s no denying that Pranab babu is not only a politician but a statesman with vast political and administrative experience,” said CPI(M) Politburo Member Surjya Kanta Mishra.
However, former West Bengal chief minister, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, said the four Left parties would meet in Delhi in a few days to decide on their course of action for the Presidential election.
Friday’s decision has created what could be an irreparable breach between TMC, the largest UPA ally, and the Congress-led UPA, leaving party managers worried at the potential of the damage an embittered Banerjee could inflict on the UPA government at the Centre.
The Congress officially continued to maintain that TMC was part of UPA. “The best is yet to come,” said Congress media chief, Janardan Dwivedi, optimistic that Mukherjee would emerge as a consensus candidate.
“His (Mukherjee’s) knowledge, role and acceptance across parties is unparalleled. He is the most capable candidate among the names that have been in circulation,” Dwivedi said.
Mukherjee will file his nomination papers on June 24, a day after the prime minister returns from his foreign tour. He will have to resign from the post of finance minister, which will be held by the prime minister as an additional portfolio till further arrangements can be made.
Since morning on Friday, a relaxed Mukherjee was seen at his North Block office, a sharp contrast with yesterday, when he looked crestfallen at the Cabinet meet. Thanking the Congress president for his candidature later, Mukherjee said: “In my long political career spanning five decades, I have been fortunate to receive the love, affection and confidence of my party colleagues, besides members and leaders of all other political parties. I am deeply indebted to them. I will again seek their indulgence and support for the next few weeks.”
Asked by reporters who would replace him as the finance minister, he replied: “There are many in our government and party. The prime minister himself is an eminent economist and, under his stewardship, we will overcome this temporary crisis.”