The process to elect the next President gathered momentum today with the Election Commission announcing July 19 as the poll date amid further indications of Pranab Mukherjee being the UPA nominee.
As per the schedule, the next occupant of the Rashtrapati Bhavan would be known on July 22, two days before the term of the incumbent Pratibha Patil ends.
Coinciding with the announcement of the poll schedule, West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, whose party Trinamool Congress is a key constituent of the UPA, reached Delhi to discuss the Presidential candidate issue with Congress President Sonia Gandhi.
Significantly, prior to her meeting with Gandhi, she held talks with Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav, whose party is an outside supporter of UPA and is expected to play a critical role in Congress-led alliance's aspirations to have its nominee in the Rashtrapati Bhavan.
The meeting came amid further indications of Mukherjee being the UPA candidate, with NCP, another key constituent of the alliance, saying the next President "will be seniormost person".
Announcing the poll schedule, chief election commissioner VS Sampath said the notification for the poll will be issued on June 16. Last date of nomination will be June 30 and nominations can be withdrawn by July 4.
Polling, if necessary, will take place on July 19 and counting of votes will take place on July 22, Sampath told a crowded press conference.
The electoral college for the Presidential poll is 4896, comprising 776 Members of Parliament and 4120 Members of Legislative Assemblies, including those of Delhi and Puducherry.
The total value of votes is 10,98,882 with that of MLAs being 5,49,474 and that of MPs being 5,49,408.Nominated members of Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha and state Assemblies are not entitled to vote.
Amid speculation over Mukherjee being the UPA's Presidential nominee, NCP general secretary DP Tripathi told reporters, "India's President will be acceptable to all. He will be a seniormost person, who will be congratulated by the entire country."
He said the UPA constituents will meet soon to decide on their nominee for the country's top Constitutional post.
Asked whether the NCP will accept the UPA candidate, Tripathi said the candidate will be a nominee of the UPA.
"We will be a party to the UPA decision. Why do you want to separate the NCP from the UPA?"
On NCP leader PA Sangma's candidature in the Presidential polls, Tripathi said the NCP is a part of the UPA and cannot talk of any other candidate.
Tripathi said he did not find anything wrong in the intense speculation over the possible Presidential candidates.
"In a democracy, you cannot stop people from talking," he said.
Interestingly, BJP MP Maneka Gandhi today expressed her backing for Mukherjee for the Presidentship, saying the country needs a "seasoned politician" like him.
"He is a seasoned politician... I know him for the past 30 years. We need such a president, who will work," Maneka said in Badaun, Uttar Pradesh, when asked about Mukherjee's possible candidature for the top post.