Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, seen as a frontrunner in the presidential race, dismissed talk of his candidature as speculation on Friday even as Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee — whose support is crucial for the UPA’s poll plan — was evasive when asked if she would support Mukherjee.
"It is speculative. I don’t want to comment on it," Mukherjee said on his way to Manila for the annual meeting of the Asian Development Bank.
Earlier in the day, Banerjee refused to speak her mind, pointing out that the election is “still two months away” and no specific names have been discussed.
“Let them tell us, then we’ll give our opinion. All options are open,” she said after meeting the PM. Asked if she’d like to see a Bengali — an obvious reference to Mukherjee — as president, she joked: “I am the candidate!”
In Chennai, DMK chief M Karunanidhi said UPA leaders would “sit together and decide” on the candidate.
The Samjawadi Party, another key factor in the UPA plan, however, gave some leeway to the ruling alliance to select its nominee, adding that no name had been proposed so far. “Whether the person is from the minority, backward or scheduled caste community, it does not matter,” SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav said amid speculation that Mukherjee and vice-president Hamid Ansari were possible candidates of the ruling coalition.
Ajit Singh, leader of the UPA’s newest ally, the RLD, said, “We have no objection to whoever the Congress decides on. Pranab Mukherjee is a good candidate. Hamid Ansari too is an able administrator.”
In Sharad Pawar’s NCP, party managers privately said the party would prefer Mukherjee over Ansari. But officially, the NCP maintained that discussions were yet to begin and no name had come up yet.
Meanwhile, Naveen Patnaik, Odisha chief minister and a key leader in the non-NDA Opposition camp, said, “It will be difficult for us to support a Congress candidate.”
CPM general secretary Prakash Karat called on the SP chief on Friday and the four Left parties said they would prefer a wide agreement on a candidate, who should be a political person.