Sonia ensures allies’ support; CPM leaders call up Pranab too; Contest likely to be one-sided
Anita Katyal, Our Political Correspondent
New Delhi, June 15. After weeks of intense consultation and speculation, the UPA today finally decided that veteran Congress leader and Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee will be its nominee in next month’s Presidential elections.
This announcement was made by Congress president Sonia Gandhi after a brief meeting of UPA leaders who readily endorsed Mukherjee’s candidature, while a key ally Trinamool Congress leader and West Bengal Chief Minister was conspicuous by her absence at this formal show of hands.
An isolated Mamata, who had returned to Kolkata earlier in the morning, remained adamant that she would not support Mukherjee, insisting that former President APJ Abdul Kalam was her first choice for the top Constitutional post.
The Congress decision to ignore Mamata’s objections to Mukherjee’s candidature could well set the stage for a parting of ways between the Congress and the Trinamool Congress given that the two parties have been on a collision course for the past several months now.
While Mamata played spoilsport, support for Mukherjee began pouring in shortly after Sonia issued a formal appeal to all political parties to support him, thus indicating that the elections will be a one-sided affair. Sonia rang up Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav and BSP chief Mayawati as both are extending outside support to the UPA government.
The Prime Minister followed up by speaking to leaders of parties, cutting across the political spectrum, with the plea that Mukherjee be elected unopposed. The BJP-led NDA, which has been undecided about its role in the presidential election, may find it difficult to oppose Mukherjee as the senior Congress leader commands respect across party lines.
The biggest relief for the Congress came when Mulayam, who has emerged as the pivot in this election with his party’s six per cent vote share in the electoral college, backed the finance minister’s candidacy. This came two days after it appeared that Mulayam was deserting the UPA when he joined hands with Mamata in proposing former President APJ Abdul Kalam, former Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as their choices for the President’s post.
Mulayam’s statement had come as a rude shock for the Congress as the SP leader had informally promised support for a UPA presidential candidate. Congress crisis managers immediately got into the act and began building consensus in favour of Mukherjee and isolating Mamata. Ahmad Patel, Sonia Gandhi’s political secretary, and other senior leaders, including Digvijay Singh, got in touch with Mulayam in an effort to wean him away from the Trinamool chief.
Shortly after the SP’s announcement, BSP leader Mayawati also pledged her support for Mukherjee. CPM leaders called up to congratulate Mukherjee shortly after his candidature was announced, indicating that the Left Front will also vote for him though a formal decision will be taken at their meeting slated for June 21.
Mukherjee took the declaration in his stride. While joyous supporters were busy distributing ladoos at his Talkatora Road residence, Mukherjee said he felt deeply honoured to be named as the UPA candidate for President. “I am grateful to Sonia Gandhi for her support and the nomination and I accept the offer with all humility,” he told mediapersons..
“I have been fortunate to receive the love and affection and confidence of my party colleagues, members and leaders of other political parties. I will again seek their indulgence and support over the next few weeks. We have requested all parties to support us,” Mukherjee added.
Mamata Firm on Kalam’s name
An isolated Mamata, who had returned to Kolkata, remained adamant that she would not support Mukherjee, insisting that former President APJ Abdul Kalam was her first choice for the top Constitutional post.
Congress wins over Mulayam
Mulayam backing Mamata’s claim after she met him on Thursday had come as a rude shock for the Congress. The party’s crisis managers immediately got into the act on Friday and began building consensus in favour of Mukherjee. Ahmad Patel and other senior leaders got in touch with Mulayam and were able to wean him away from the Trinamool chief.