A source in the Congress party has said that the name of the next presidential candidate from the UPA would surface by May 25. Renu Mittal reports
Amongst the high profile names in circulation for the post of President of India, the name of A K Antony appears to have been crossed out. The Congress President Sonia Gandhi is planning to send him to Chennai to hold discussions with the Dravida Munnettra Kazhagam chief and United Progressive Alliance ally M Karunanidhi over the selection of the UPA candidate to be fielded for the post of Rashtrapati.
Sources in the Congress said it is highly unlikely that the Congress would send a potential candidate to hold negotiations over his own name as the party does not indulge in such practices. While it is not clear when Antony would go to Chennai but it is likely to be soon since the Congress leadership has kick started the process by holding discussions with Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar on Wednesday.
A senior Congress leader who is in the loop of the discussions said it was a general and preliminary discussion and no names were mentioned or discussed though some NCP leaders claimed that Pawar was in favour of elevating Vice President Hamid Ansari to the post of President.
Trinamool Congress Chief Mamata Banerjee is expected to be in Delhi on May 3 and 4 and she is likely to meet with Sonia Gandhi to discuss the presidential candidate of the UPA.
Other smaller allies would be called for discussions in between these meetings, as it is a mere formality to involve them in the discussions since they do not carry much weight.
Sources said that the Congress leadership would hold discussions with its allies in the first round, after which discussions would be held with allies like the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party that support the government from the outside.
The Congress would also try and reach out to some regional parties that they think may be amiable to reason and may support the Congress candidate if the person has overall acceptability.
A serious aspirant is Gopal Gandhi who is said to have the backing of Mamata Banerjee. He is learnt to be lobbying hard and recently met Sitaram Yechury of the CPI(M) to lobby for support. The UPA government has made him a member of the Tagore Award Committee which carries a prize of Rs 1 crore, where he is in the company of Amartya Sen, Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj and others. The membership is being seen as a sure sign that the government has adjusted him and would not be supporting him for the presidential post.
A top Congress leader said the likely name of the next presidential candidate from the UPA would surface by May 25 as discussions would be held during the ongoing budget session. The Congress managers would try and reach out to as many parties as possible which definitely include the left parties. The Congress is not ruling out the fact that a key UPA ally (read Mamata Banerjee) may not play ball and for that reason all doors to Mulayam and Mayawati are being kept wide open.
Sources say that in the event of a contest, the left would play ball by fielding a third candidate which would help the UPA candidate to win by getting second preference votes.
The former President Abdul Kalam is out of the race say Congress leaders with Mulayam Singh Yadav making it clear that they had neither taken Kalam's name nor were they pushing for it. Mulayam is, however, pushing the name of his brother Ram Gopal Yadav as the vice president and as a prize for supporting the UPA's presidential candidate.