It's Pranab da
UPA choice isolates Mamata, gets wide support
The race for Rashtrapati Bhavan is all but over. Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee is set to become the country’s next President.
Bringing curtains down on two days of chaos over the ruling United Progressive Alliance’s (UPA) choice of its presidential candidate, its chairperson Sonia Gandhi on Friday announced Mukherjee’s name for the top constitutional post.
“Pranab Mukherjee has a long and distinguished record of public service spanning over five decades. There is broad support for his candidature. The UPA appeals to all the political parties and all MPs and MLAs to support the candidature of Mukherjee for the office of President,” Sonia said.
Her statement came after a meeting of UPA leaders at Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s Race Course Road residence in the evening.
The announcement of the 77-year old leader’s candidature for the July 19 presidential election instantly became a rallying point for the Congress and its UPA allies and supporting parties. Apart from the endorsements from the allies, two important supporting parties—the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP)—pledged support to Mukherjee’s candidature.
The support of the SP, which just the other day joined hands with Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee to reject Mukherjee’s name and suggest instead three other names, including that of Manmohan Singh, was vital.
Besides completely isolating the Trinamool Congress, the support virtually clinched the election in favour of Mukherjee.
Making a U-turn in the party’s approach, SP leader Ramgopal Yadav said within minutes of the UPA decision: “I am very happy that Pranab da has been finally chosen as the candidate for the biggest office. The SP supports him and wishes him well for the victory.”
The Left parties, too, dropped enough indications of endorsing Mukherjee, as CPM politburo member Brinda Karat “congratulated” the veteran Congress leader on his nomination. A formal decision on the Left parties’ stand on the election would to known next Thursday as their leaders have scheduled a meeting that day for the purpose.
As Sonia Gandhi and Mukherjee made an appeal to all parties for support, the prime minister initiated a formal process of seeking support by calling up opposition leaders. He spoke to Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav, BSP leader Mayawati, Leaders of the Opposition in the two Houses of Parliament—Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley—CPM leader Sitaram Yechury, CPI leader A B Bardhan and Janata Dal (Secular) leader H D Deve Gowda.
Though it has never been made public, the BJP has been supportive of Mukherjee for the presidency. In view of this, it is yet to be seen if the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) will endorse Mukherjee’s name. A meeting of the NDA in the morning deferred a decision on its approach to the elections until the UPA made its choice. Even if it prefers to put up a candidate, it would be just a token contest as on several occasions in the past presidential elections.
According to sources, at the morning meeting of NDA leaders, Janata Dal (United) leader Sharad Yadav is believed to have expressed reservations about supporting former president APJ Abdul Kalam for the presidency. Kalam’s name was proposed by Mamata on Thursday. However, in view of the wide support for Mukherjee, it is now unclear if Kalam will offer to fight the election. “I will take the right decision at the right time,” Kalam said in Patna during the day.
The only other aspirant left is P A Sangma of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). The NCP has asked him to opt out. In the changed scenario, there was no immediate reaction from two regional leaders, Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalitha, who had proposed Sangma as their candidate a few weeks ago.
The BJP has not made known if it would prop-up Sangma, though he has sought the NDA’s support.
It is speculated that the NDA may now bargain with the ruling coalition for leaving the vice-president’s post to a nominee of its choice. The vice-president’s election is due in August.
There are some indications that the BJP may be inclined to endorse Mukherjee’s candidature even in the absence of a deal on the vice-president’s election.