In a surprise statement, Mamata Banerjee on Thursday said the Congress has announced that finance minister Pranab Mukherjee is not their Presidential candidate, comments that came shortly after a Congress spokesperson suggested he is too "valued" to be spared.
"I think their party has already announced today that he is not (the candidate)," the West Bengal chief minister and Trinamool Congress chief told reporters when asked whether Mukherjee is acceptable as Presidential candidate.
"I cannot say anything. Congress party has already announced their opinion... He belongs to the Congress party. Congress party will decide. How can I say whether it is or not. I respect all political parties. I know my limitations. I don't cross limits," she said.
Banerjee, who would be meeting Congress President Sonia Gandhi tomorrow on the Presidential election, said: "They (Congress) have their own choice. So I don't want to interfere."
Earlier, Congress spokesperson Renuka Chowdhury told reporters that "it will never be easy to leave Pranab da. He is such a valuable person for us in the party. His contribution to the party cannot be even measured. For him it will not seem to be fair...but he has such an active political mind. He is too involved and knowns politics so well.
"So, well in a way if his name is doing the rounds, I have no authority to say that his name is also being discussed. If his candidature is being talked about, then he is very respected and valued guide for us."
Asked if she does not want to see Mukherjee as President, she said: "I want to see him in many posts. I am personally a big fan of him."
As her remarks created a flutter in political circles, Renuka sought to clarify saying her remarks have been completely misunderstood and decisions about Presidential candidature are not taken at her level.
Choudhury said it was unfortunate that her "genuine admiration" for a senior leader of the party has been distorted.
She said she had categorically said she was personally a "great fan" of Mukherjee and wished him that he grows from strength to strength.
"That does not mean we are ruling out Pranab Mukherjee for Presidential election," she said, adding it is unfair to quote her remarks out of context.
"It (Presidential candidate) is not a decision that can be taken at my level," she said, clarifiying her remarks.