Pranab, Ansari almost through

UPA hosts lunch in a show of unity

Pranab, Ansari almost through

Armed with support from an overwhelming majority in the electoral college, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) will face Thursday’s presidential election and the August 7 vice-presidential poll with increased confidence.

The elections to the two highest constitutional posts of the country have almost been reduced to token fights. The Samajwadi Party (SP), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and National Democratic Alliance (NDA) members Janata Dal-United (JD-U) and Shiv Sena have cast their lot with UPA nominee Pranab Mukherjee.

Moreover, the Trinamool Congress (TMC) , headed by the mercurial Mamata Banerjee, announced a change of heart and opted to vote for Mukherjee, taking his likely vote tally to more than 70 per cent.

In the vice-presidential poll, however, the JD-U and Sena will vote along with their NDA partners. The SP and BSP have announced support for UPA nominee Hamid Ansari. Mamata, too, is likely to support him. With its nominee Pranab Mukherjee’s victory in the presidential poll on Thursday a certainty, the Congress-led UPA on Wednesday staged a show of unity at a lunch that was attended by representatives of all its constituents, including the troublesome TMC and the purportedly sulking Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).

The “power lunch” was hosted by UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi. The highlight of the lunch at the Hotel Ashok was the presence of TMC Rajya Sabha members K D Singh and Sukhendu Shekhar Roy.

SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, who has been inching towards the Congress in recent past, was the among the first to arrive at the lunch venue. While NCP leader and Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad Yadav, Union Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh and BSP leader Satish Chandra Misra shared the table with the Congress chief at lunch, Mulayam Singh Yadav and Union Minister Farooq Abdullah were seated on a table with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Rahul Gandhi.

As evident from the presence of the leaders of alliance partners and outside supporters of the UPA at the lunch, Mukherjee is comfortably placed to have a cakewalk over his rival, the Opposition–backed P A Sangma.

Polling will take place in Delhi and all state capitals.

After Mamata announced support to Mukherjee, the UPA nominee is likely to poll a minimum of 7,20,000 votes, while his challenger P A Sangma is expected to get 3,13,000 votes.

Mukherjee will receive even the CPM’s votes, after the main Left party decided to support the UPA nominee, even at the cost of splitting the Left unity. Mamata kept the UPA and NDA guessing for weeks before announcing to vote in favour of Mukherjee. She and Mulayam teamed up briefly in opposing the UPA candidate while announcing their three names. However, within a day, Mulayam turned around and announced support for Mukherjee.

The enthusiasm in the UPA over Mukherjee having a clear edge over his adversary was reflected in the remark of his election manager and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal: “He (Pranab) will get votes beyond anyone's imagination. It is a one-sided affair. He will get a thumping majority.”

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