West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Wednesday met Congress president Sonia Gandhi to discuss who would be the United Progressive Alliance's choice for the President and told reporters after the crucial meeting that Pranab Mukherjee was the first choice of the Congress party as Presidential candidate.
Mamata said after the meeting: "Pranab Mukherjee is the first choice and Vice President Hamid Ansari is the second choice of Sonia Gandhi for Presidentship."
Banerjee also said that she gave no commitment and would discuss with SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav and her own party on this issue.
Banerjee, who met Gandhi at her 10 Janpath residence, was expected to put forward her list of favourites for the job. The meeting is considered to be crucial, given the fact that the Trinamool Congress is a key ally of the UPA.
Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee on Wednesday emerged as a pivotal figure in deciding a consensus Presidential candidate as she flitted in and out of meetings in government bungalows in central Delhi with key Congress and ally leaders.
Immediately after meeting Gandhi, she will also visit Samajwadi Party (SP) chief Mulayam Singh Yadav a second time. Banerjee, who had met Mulayam Singh on Tuesday night soon after arriving in the capital, indicated that the two leaders were likely to talk again.
The SP chief also told reporters on Wednesday that he would consult the Trinamool Congress on the presidential candidate. He has maintained that the party will take a call only after Congress announces its own candidate.
The two regional parties, which cherish national ambitions, are key to the success of the Congress nominee in the Presidential polls.
In the evening, Banerjee will also meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
Manmohan Singh will meet West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee to discuss the Presidential elections, officials said on Wednesday.
“The Prime Minister has called her (Banerjee) but the time has not been fixed,” a Trinamool Congress leader said. The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) also confirmed the meeting.
Banerjee, who reached New Delhi on Tuesday evening, will meet Congress president Sonia Gandhi at her residence today at 4:30 pm.
The meetings are an effort to finalise the United Progressive Alliance's candidate for the President's post.
The flurry of meetings is an indication of a larger deal-making taking place between the Congress and its key allies, especially the Trinamool, that is bargaining for a financial bailout from the government in exchange for its political support to Congress and government moves.
Although, Union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee is by all indications the front-runner, some dark horse could well emerge out of the political confabulations, depending of course on the bargaining power of each party.
But Banerjee's centrality to the discussions was very evident and she was enjoying every bit of the spotlight on her, even though she revealed nothing to the media.
The Election Commission has announced that the presidential election would be held July 19, setting the ball rolling for the process to decide on who would be the next occupant of the Rashtrapati Bhavan. All eyes are now on Congress chief Sonia Gandhi who will take the final call on the ruling UPA's candidate.
While Pranab Mukherjee has emerged front-runner, there is still no clarity on who would be the United Progressive Alliance's choice for the post. Suspense has been mounting and there have been hectic consultations between leaders of various political parties but no names have been thrown up.
The only declared candidate is former Lok Sabha speaker PA Sangma of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), who has been actively lobbying for support amongst opposition parties.
Chief Election Commissioner VS Sampath said the elections would be notified June 16, be held on July 19 and the votes counted on July 22, just two days before President Pratibha Patil's term ends.
If all goes well and there is consensus amongst allies in the UPA, the opposition National Democratic Alliance (NDA) will have little say.
In the jockeying for power, the BJP-led NDA was believed to be pushing for its own person for the post of vice president.
Talk was that the party might choose senior leader Jaswant Singh for the job. The buzz was heightened with Jaswant Singh meeting Mulayam Singh at his residence.
"All the constituents of the NDA would join their heads to decide their stand over the matter in the coming days," Akali Dal leader and Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal said.
Given the uncertainty, the final name could well be a dark-horse. Either way, the government will have to reveal its choice for India's 13th President before Saturday.