Is Cong trying to bypass Mamata in race to Prez poll?
Congress leaders say that part of their calculations and preparations for the Presidential poll have focused on getting the numbers without Mamata Banerjee, reports Renu Mittal.
As political parties make their moves on the next presidential candidate, the first note of dissent has come from within the UPA ranks by Mamata Banerjee. The chief minister of West Bengal seems reluctant to accept Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee for the post of the President.
In an interview given to a TV news channel, Mamata Banerjee said she does not want either Pranab Mukherjee or Hamid Ansari as the next Rashtrapati of the country. She says she loves (Lok Sabha Speaker) Meira Kumar and would like to see her as the President. Apart from the Lok Sabha Speaker, Mamata has named Gopal Gandhi and APJ Abdul Kalam as her other two choices.
By not supporting Pranab Mukherjee's candidature, Mamata is obviously not worried that this may create a backlash for her in West Bengal since the country has never had a prime minister or President from West Bengal and now that a number of political parties are discussing supporting Mukherjee for the top post, it is interesting that Mamata showing hesitation.
Mamata had a round of discussion with Sonia Gandhi in the beginning of May, but sources said it was a general discussion and no names were mentioned or discussed. The Congress did not want Mamata to publicly comment on any names till the Congress and the UPA could come to some understanding on their candidate for the next President of India.
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Image: West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee
Growing bonhomie between Congress and Samajwadi Party
So far the Congress has offered no reaction on the candidature of Meira Kumar, with some sections of the party suggesting that with Mamata having taken three names, it is unlikely that Sonia Gandhi would dance to her tune and support these candidates. The pro-Mukherjee group in the Congress and in West Bengal is happy that she has exposed herself so openly and they feel this could work to Mukherjee's advantage both in the state and outside it.
Reportedly, Gopal Gandhi met Congress President Sonia Gandhi last week but so far there are no indications that he may be on the shortlist for the post of the President.
Senior leaders in the Congress say they have been aware that Mamata Banerjee is not inclined towards Pranab Mukherjee and that is why part of their calculations and preparations for the Presidential poll have also focused on getting the numbers without Mamata Didi. It is in this context that the growing bonhomie of the Congress with the Samajwadi Party has become even more meaningful.
While Pranab Mukherjee is to meet Mulayam Singh Yadav's brother Gopal – a Rajya Sabha member - on Monday, it is interesting that the Samajwadi Party openly batted for the Congress in the Rajya Sabha when the Lokpal bill came up.
Image: Samajwadi Party President Mulayam Singh Yadav
Congress holding parleys with the Left?
While minister Narayanswamy opened by introducing the bill, the Samajwadi Party leader Naresh Aggrawal proposed that the Lokpal Bill should be referred to a select committee and also read out the names of all those members who are proposed to be in the select committee. The fact that the government chose to keep its powder dry but instead decided to fire from the shoulders of the Samajwadi Party indicates that this was a practice run for the Presidential election where the Samajwadi Party is in the mood to play ball with the Congress.
Senior Congress members have already begun hinting that if Mamata wants to play hard ball, they have the option of a "mulayam" or soft ball in the Samajwadi Party and that with the SP on board, along with a number of other parties, getting the numbers should not be a worry for the government.
Apart from that senior Congress leaders are also having parleys with left leaders, though officially the Congress has denied that any such discussions have taken place.
The fact that it may signal the appearance of deep cracks in the government can certainly be a matter of worry for the prime minister who completes three years in UPA II on Tuesday. There is a function followed by dinner and it remains to be seen what would be the mood and the atmosphere at the dinner and how many of Mamata's ministers and MPs turn up.
Race to President's post still wide open
Despite the Jayalalithaa force-feeding the Bharatiya Janata Party and other political parties to accept PA Sangma as the presidential candidate, the NDA has decided to remain mum till the UPA comes out with its choice of candidate.
NDA leader Sharad Yadav while holding a meeting of the NDA parties has asked all allies to refrain from making comments, or giving suggestions or proposing or opposing any names till the UPA nominee is clear.
While there is a great deal of support for Pranab Mukherjee, sources say the presidential game is wide open since Mamata's wild card entry has put a new perspective on the ongoing battle plan.
Image: Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa