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Congress seems ahead in presidential sweepstakes, BJP stuck

delhi Updated: May 03, 2012 17:38 IST
Hamid Ansari

Congress seems to have taken a head-start over the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the presidential poll campaign as it deftly moves for a consensus among allies on probable candidates -- Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee and Vice President Hamid Ansari -- while the BJP is finding the going tough as its partners are yet to come on board.

Unlike the BJP, which stated its position of opposing any Congress candidate, even though no names have come out formally, the Congress has been keeping its cards close to its chest, talking of a widest possible consensus and reaching out to allies and supporting parties on its choice.

The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) has over 40% of the total votes in the electoral college of presidential polls while the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has less than 30 percent. Neither grouping can elect a presidential candidate on its own electoral strength.

BJP's strategy to have a common candidate against Congress has not taken off with no takers yet for party leader Sushma Swaraj's signal about the party's readiness for an understanding with non-Congress parties on presidential and vice-presidential polls.

The Samajwadi Party (SP), which has nearly six percent vote share in the presidential polls, has not made any move to evolve a consensus among regional parties on any candidate.

Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav said in New Delhi on Thursday that the party had not taken a decision on the presidential elections but added that he was keen on a political leader as president.

An SP leader told IANS that the party was not likely to float a name on its own for the presidential elections.

Janata Dal-United (JD-U), a key ally of BJP, has differed with the party in supporting names doing the rounds as probable Congress candidates without discussing the matter in NDA.

JD-U leader Shivanand Tiwari said both names doing rounds were "good names".

"Pranab Mukherjee is one of the most experienced leaders. As for Ansari, there has been several instances of vice-president getting elected as president," Tiwari told IANS, adding that "consensus will be better".

He took exception to Sushma Swaraj's remarks that Ansari lacked stature to be president.

"Her own stature has gone down by the remarks. These are not in good taste," he said.

Asked if there was a possibility of NDA putting up a candidate, Tiwari said there has been no meeting of the alliance on the issue so far.

On the possibility of NDA putting up Shiromani Akali Dal leader and Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal for vice president, he said there had been no discussion so far.

The BJP is trying to contain the damage caused by Sushma Swaraj's remarks with party president Nitin Gadkari promising that NDA allies will be consulted before any names were finalised.

Party spokesperson Tarun Vijay said the BJP wanted a president who is not a rubber stamp.

"We want a candidate of such stature who can express collective dreams and aspirations of the nation and not be a rubber stamp," Vijay told IANS.

CPI-M leader Sitaram Yechury said the party would prefer a consensus on the presidential candidate.

He said the Congress has not yet formally come out with names or held consultations with opposition parties. "If there is no consensus, then there would be a contest," he said.

Yechury added that the Left parties had proposed Ansari's name during the last vice presidential election and had not opposed Mukherjee's name when it was floated informally during the last presidential polls.

The Congress has already held consultations with its allies Nationalist Congress Party and DMK. It has also reached out to Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee.

Minister of State for Planning Ashwani Kumar said the Congress was continuing its talks with allies.

"Congress is continuing its parleys with its allies and supporting parties and will try to secure broadest possible consensus. The office of president represents the unity and plurality of India and it is only right that to the extent possible, broadest possible consensus should be strived for," Ashwani Kumar told IANS.

Congress sources said party president Sonia Gandhi will decide on the party's nominee depending on the views of allies and supporting parties.

"As far as I can understand, she has a few names, including Mukherjee and Ansari, and will take a decision at an appropriate time," a party leader told IANS.