Pranab Mukherjee appears set to be the next President with his candidature announced on Friday by the ruling UPA and endorsed swiftly by supporting parties Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party amid indications that he will gather more support ahead.
The 77-year-old vetran Congress leader, currently finance minister with 43 years of parliamentary experience, was named by UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi at a meeting of the leaders of the Congress and the alliance partners, including Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, Rashtriya Lok Dal , Nationalist Congress Party, National Conference and Indian Union Muslim League.
Within minutes, SP, which had joined hands with TMC leader Mamata Banerjee to propose the name of A P J Abdul Kalam for the post, broke away and pledged support to Mukherjee, leaving the West Bengal chief minister totally isolated.
This was followed by another major Uttar Pradesh party BSP, whose supremo Mayawati also extended her support, which will take Mukherjee close to the required vote value of 5.49 lakh in an electoral college consisting of MPs and MLAs with a total vote value of 10.98 lakh.
Even counting out TMC, which has a vote value of 48,000, Mukherjee is short of just about 26,000 vote value which is expected to be made up by other parties that may include the Left.
Immediately after being chosen, Mukherjee expressed his gratitude to Sonia Gandhi and the other UPA leaders for the honour which he accepted with "all humility".
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh lost no time in reaching out to other parties including the BJP to seek support for Mukherjee. After speaking to SP supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati, he called up BJP leaders in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley respectively.
A question mark now hangs over the candidacy of Kalam with only Mamata still pushing his name. Indications are he may not agree to contest, making it a virtual cakewalk for Mukherjee.
The BJP-led NDA met earlier but failed to come up with a candidate amid reports that JD(U) had reservations over Kalam being supported. Whether the NDA would chose to contest with its own candidate remained a matter of conjecture.
The only other candidate P A Sangma was still insisting on constesting, recalling that he has been supported by All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader Jayalalitha and Biju Janata Dal chief Naveen Patnaik. His own party NCP though, was pressing him to withdraw which he was stubbornly refusing to do.