Thackeray, though a leading light of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance grouping, broke ranks and said his party would vote for Mukherjee in the Presidential polls on July 19. In the earlier poll, of 2007, he had done the same thing in decreeing support for the Congress-UPA candidate, Pratibha Patil [ Images ], but that was for a different and expected reason -- his is a Maharashtra-first party and she comes from the state.
Union Agriculture Minister and Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar [ Images ] was considered instrumental in Thackeray's decision. He would be accompanying Mukherjee to the meeting; none from the state unit of the latter's party would do so. Despite being political archrivals, Thackeray and Pawar have a long-standing friendship.
Thackeray has justified his decision on what he has termed the larger national interest. "The nation needs a rashtrapati who has a standing, caliber and acceptability across party line," he'd said in the party mouthpiece, Saamna. Further, Thackeray had desired the election be, preferably, without a contest.
None from the Shiv Sena was present when Mukherjee filed his nomination (the head of another NDA constituent which broke ranks on this issue, Sharad Yadav of the JD-U, was) and Thackeray has made clear that his support was for the individual in question, not the Congress party.
During the 2007 elections, when the Sena played the Marathi card and supported Pratibha Patil, then chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh [ Images ] and his deputy, R R Patil [ Images ] (Deshmukh is from the Congress; Patil from the NCP), did call on Thackeray to thank him.
On July 13, Mukherjee is to also meet the members of Parliament and state legislators of the UPA's Maharashtra [ Images ] unit. Said a Congress minister, who did not want to be identified, "It will be Pranab's attempt to bag the votes of more members."
There are 288 members of the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly and 67 members of Parliament from the state.
In the assembly, the Congress has 82 members; the NCP, 62; the Shiv Sena, 45. Apart from the 24 independents, the Congress would also try to get the Raj Thackeray-led Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, which has 12 members. Besides, four members of the Peasants & Workers Party might support Pranab.