Trinamool Congress boss Mamata Banerjee's already tenuous partnership with the Congress appeared more fragile than ever on Thursday evening, when she insisted that former president APJ Abdul Kalam - and not finance minister Pranab Mukherjee - was her choice as the presidential candidate.
Banerjee said she was "not in the habit of changing her stance once declared", but Congress general secretary Janardan Dwivedi made his party's stand clear: "Kalam is not acceptable (to us)."
She even dared the Congress to
throw her out of the alliance
- "I have not left the UPA, but if the UPA wants, then it is their choice..."
Congress sources, however, pointed out that Banerjee was pushing the alliance to force a mid-term election in which she was expecting to do well.
The fast-paced developments on Thursday saw the Congress launch an all-out offensive against Banerjee - especially for naming PM Manmohan Singh as one of her choices - while avoiding comments on Yadav.
Dwivedi said, "We cannot afford to spare Dr Manmohan Singh as the Prime Minister. We've already said he will remain till 2014."
His statement was followed up by I and B minister Ambika Soni: "I think this (naming Singh as a candidate) is something which does not make any political or ethical sense ..."
After the Congress core group meeting in the evening, a Congress leader said a meeting of the UPA partners on Friday was likely to finalise the names of the party candidates, Mukherjee and Hamid Ansari.
Banerjee, however, said her party would not attend the meet.
"We want Kalam by consensus, but if some people do not support him, it's their wish ….whoever supports or not supports us is not our problem," she said after a meeting with Yadav.
But Yadav, who addressed a joint press conference with Banerjee on Wednesday to float Kalam's name, appeared less enthusiastic a day later.
He was not present when Banerjee spoke to the media after their meeting, although she claimed: "What I am saying is based on my talks with Mulayam."
The Congress, meanwhile, sought to expand its support base. Mukherjee called Left leaders Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Biman Bose to seek their support.
A CPI(M) politburo member told a senior Congress leader in Delhi that they would take a call after the UPA officially announced its candidate.
The BJP-led NDA is also meeting on Friday to decide its candidate.
Sources said the BJP and its allies could consider Kalam or opt for former Lok Sabha speaker PA Sangma, who is backed by the AIADMK and BJD.
Senior BJP leader LK
Advani met Tamil Nadu chief minister
and AIADMK leader J Jayalalithaa in Chennai during the day.