The Presidential race took a dramatic twist today with the Congress declaring Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee as their preferred choice.
But two key allies, Trinamool Congress and Samajwadi Party, came out with a surprise response by suggesting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's name.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi informed TMC leader and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee that her party's first choice for Rashtrapati Bhavan was the Union finance minister. When Mamata pressed for a second Congress choice, Gandhi mentioned Vice President Hamid Ansari's name.
It was the West Bengal leader, in the capital at the invitation of Gandhi, who disclosed the Congress choices to the media, ending weeks of guessing games.
A bigger surprise came immediately thereafter when Mamata and SP leader Mulayam Singh Yadav disclosed the names of Singh, former President A P J Abdul Kalam and former Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee as their preferred candidates. Anyone of them would be acceptable to them if there was a consensus.
This dramatic turn of events left the Presidential race wide open and put the Congress in a dilemma. The party needs the support of both TMC and SP to ensure that its candidate
Other allies such as the DMK, Nationalist Congress Party, Rashtriya Lok Dal and National Conference, have already indicated their support for Pranab Mukherjee.
By proposing the prime minister's name, Mamata and Mulayam may have caused embarrassment to the Congress, as some political observers interpret this move as indicating a loss of confidence in him.
These sudden twists and turns created a flutter among political parties, which were trying to make out what the implications are for the Presidential poll and beyond on the political alignments.
NCP leader Sharad Pawar reacted to the TMC-SP move, saying all the parties in the UPA would have to sit and consider the situation and evolve a consensus on the current Presidential candidate.
Earlier, Mamata met Gandhi for nearly 30 minutes and discussed the Presidential candidate.
"We had detailed discussions.... Soniaji told me that she had held meetings with two-four allies and her first choice is Pranab Mukherjee and second choice is Hamid Ansari," Banerjee told reporters.
The West Bengal chief minister said she told Gandhi that "at the moment, I cannot say anything. We need to discuss with Mulayam Singh and my own party. Then only we can say something."
Banerjee later met Yadav for the second time since last evening.
After their meeting, Yadav announced the three names and Mamata said since the President was a high Constitutional post a person, who occupies the high post, should be able to work with honesty and should know the Constitution.