Suspense mounted on Monday over the stand of two crucial United Progressive Alliance allies -- Trinamool Congress and Samajwadi Party -- over the Presidential poll for which the Election Commission is expected to announce a date shortly.
At the heart of the strategy of Trinamool and SP is their clamour for a financial package from the Centre, but the Congress dismissed any possibility of a quid pro quo between any help to states and the Presidential poll.
The Trinamool Congress on Monday deputed West Bengal Finance Minister Amit Mitra for talks with Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, widely speculated to be the UPA's Presidential candidate, but the discussions remained inconclusive.
Trinamool chief and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee told reporters in Kolkata that she was yet to know the outcome of the meeting between Mukherjee and Mitra on the package, which is seen as her bargaining chip for support to the UPA nominee.
Samajwadi Party, an outside supporter which is seen to have moved closer to Congress in the last one month, also played the cards close to its chest, refusing to disclose its strategy on whether it would support the UPA's candidate.
Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav gave a clear message to the UPA that its support should not be taken for granted.
"The situation (in Uttar Pradesh) is bad following the misrule of previous (Mayawati) government. That is why we want the maximum financial assistance," he said, adding that Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav has already met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in this regard.
The two parties command a vote value of over 1.16 lakh in an electoral college of nearly 11 lakh votes. The UPA, including Trinamool, has a vote value of 4.60 lakh and with Bahujan Samaj Party's 43,000 and SP's votes, it can hope to sail through.
"The Presidential election has not been announced yet. There are no candidates. We will decide on whom to support after considering the merits and de-merits (of candidates)," Yadav said while addressing a press conference after the party's Parliamentary Board meeting.
To a volley of questions, including whether he would support Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee for the top post, he said nobody has contacted him and neither has he contacted anybody on the issue.
"Our party has not taken any decision yet. When the elections are announced, the Parliamentary Board will meet again to decide on the issue," he said.
Asked whether he would go along with the UPA's candidate, Yadav said, "We are no less than the UPA. The Samajwadi Party is a separate party. Hum kisi ke peeche nahi hain (we are not behind anyone)."
Yadav, whose party supports the UPA from outside, underlined that the Samajwadi Party was with the Congress-led coalition only to keep "communal forces at bay".
Akhilesh Yadav said in Kanpur that his party favours a political consensus for deciding the candidature for the presidential post, a view echoed by Bihar Chief Minister and Janata Dal - United leader Nitish Kumar.
The Communist Party of India - Marxist, which held its two-day Central Committee meeting over the weekend, said it will take a decision "politically" on the Presidential candidate after consulting non-Congress secular parties, once the UPA announces its choice.
"We are not bound. We are not part of the alliance of the Congress and the UPA that we have to support anybody they propose," CPI-M general secretary Prakash Karat said.
Asked by reporters whether the party would support a Bengali, an apparent reference to Mukherjee, he said, "I thought we are an all-India party. Politically, we will decide after a name comes."
On its part, the Election Commission indicated that the notification for the poll would be issued in a couple of days.
"All preparatory works are in full swing and an announcement regarding the election schedule is due shortly," new CEC V S Sampath said.
Asked when, he replied, "Let there be some suspense".