Top BJP leaders on Sunday sought to bring around their NDA allies to support former Lok Sabha speaker PA Sangma as a common non-Congress candidate against the UPA’s Pranab Mukherjee in the presidential elections, but failed to overcome the differences.
After a two-hour meeting of NDA leaders, BJP veteran LK Advani was authorised to talk to chief ministers of NDA-ruled states to evolve a consensus and rope in the Trinamool Congress, which is against Mukherjee’s nomination, as well as the AIADMK and BJD, which are already backing Sangma.
With former president APJ Abdul Kalam remaining non-committal on contesting, Sangma emerged as the alternative.
Advani and other BJP leaders reasoned that even if Sangma loses to Mukherjee, this was the best opportunity to present a broad anti-Congress formation before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. To show that the NDA was in a firm shape and "gathering strength", they felt Mukherjee should not go uncontested.
While the Shiv Sena skipped the meeting, Janata Dal(United) leader Shivanand Tiwari said a contest against Mukherjee was best avoided. But party chief and NDA convenor Sharad Yadav said Advani should get time to work on a consensus over Sangma.
If Advani's initiative pays off, the NDA could announce Sangma's name as early as Tuesday. Advani's close aides were in touch with Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee, AIADMK's Jayalalithaa and Naveen Patnaik of the BJD.
BJP leaders were hopeful that Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar too would eventually back Sangma as he wouldn't want to jeopardise the NDA.
Sources said the BJP, however, wanted to be sure that Sangma would remain in the presidential race. Despite the NCP's opposition, Sangma on Sunday announced he was keen to contest and even spoke to Banerjee.
"I appealed to her (Banerjee) to support me. She was insisting on Dr Kalam. I said he has opted out of the race, so you should support (me)," Sangma said.
The BJP played down the Shiv Sena's absence from the meeting. "The Sena is fully with the NDA and not much should be read into its absence," said BJP spokesperson Shahnawaz Hussain.
Sena leader Sanjay Raut said a final decision on the candidate would be taken by party chief Bal Thackeray.
In 2007, the Sena had pitched for Pratibha Patil — she being the first Maharashtrian to be nominated for the top post - and not for late Bhairon Singh Shekhawat.