The official announcement confirming finance minister Pranab Mukherjee as the UPA’s presidential candidate finally came on Friday, immediately drawing support from different political parties and, thus, check-mating the sulking Trinamool Congress boss Mamata Banerjee.
With the Samajwadi Party (SP) — which had earlier joined hands with Banerjee — Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and others backing him, Mukherjee told HT: “Now, let me win the race.”
Mukherjee, however, appears all set to be the next president unless former Lok Sabha speaker PA Sangma, who is likely to contest, springs a surprise.
The announcement by UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi clearly indicated the Congress was willing to take the risk of snubbing Banerjee, who later said in Kolkata: “The game is not yet over.”
On Wednesday, Gandhi was upset with Banerjee for making public the details of their discussions. It was quite evident at Friday’s UPA meeting, where Gandhi said it was unfortunate an ally had rejected UPA’s choices. But, in the end, Gandhi had her way.
It was immediately after Banerjee’s meeting with SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav on Wednesday, announcing the names of PM Manmohan Singh, former president APJ Abdul Kalam and former Lok Sabha speaker Somnath Chatterjee as their choices, that Congress managers reached out to other parties.
By Friday morning, the SP chief was “back on track” and the deal sealed. At the UPA meeting, the Congress leadership told its allies both the SP and BSP supported Mukherjee.
“Of all the names, Mukherjee is the most capable, mature and correct candidate,” BSP chief Mayawati said. The SP chief, too, sought to mend fences: “He is an able, experienced and scholarly parliamentarian.”
While the UPA chief appealed to all parties to support Mukherjee, the PM reached out to the Opposition, calling up the BJP’s Sushma Swaraj.
V Narayanasamy, MoS in the PMO, said Mukherjee would resign after Singh’s return from his nine-day foreign trip on June 23 and would launch his campaign from Tamil Nadu.
Mukherjee’s exit from North Block is expected to result in major changes in the cabinet. The finance portfolio may go to the PM for now.
Asked about his successor, Mukherjee said, “I don’t think I am the depository of all knowledge and expertise. In our government and our party, there are a number of people who can handle difficult economic situations.”
“The PM himself is an eminent economist and under his stewardship, we will overcome this temporary crisis.”
Gandhi has another tough task at hand — naming the next leader of the House in Lok Sabha. The names doing the rounds are P Chidambaram, Sushil Kumar Shinde and Jaipal Reddy.