After the CPM openly supported Congress leader Pranab Mukherjee as a presidential nominee, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh remained non-committal on it.
But the Union External Affairs Minister, whose name has figured in several news-reports as potential candidate, stepped out on Friday to emphasise that the Congress High Command would decide his role and the media should not speculate on his name.
Dismissing reports of being a presidential candidate, in a brief and carefully worded statement, Mukherjee said: "My role in the party and in the Government is decided by the Congress leadership. Whatever responsibilities are assigned to me, I try to discharge these to the best of my capabilities."
The Minister stopped short of saying that he is not in the race for Rashtrapati Bhavan. Recent news-reports on the presidential election were all "speculative in nature," he said, emphasizing that any speculation on the matter should be avoided.
Mukherjee’s statement comes a day after BJP leader and former Prime Minister A B Vajpayee ruled himself out as a candidate when Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Bannerjee suggested that the NDA project him for the top post.
Earlier in the day, the PM said it was "too premature" to say anything on the issue of a Presidential candidate since discussions were still going on with allies. He refused to respond to queries whether he could spare Mukherjee for the top job in view of the Left’s support to the West Bengal leader’s name. "I am not saying anything on the matter. It is not appropriate," he said.
CPM leader Sitaram Yechury’s statement on Thursday that if the Congress and the UPA put up Mukherjee, the Left parties would support him had put Sonia Gandhi’s party in a spot, specially where the other UPA constituents are concerned.
This is because, well-placed Congress sources said, no name has been projected or decided on so far. They also said that the talks would gather momentum after establishing contact with Bahujan Samaj Party leader and Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati who the Congress would like to have on board for two reasons: one, to boost the UPA’s tally in the electoral college that elects the President; and two, to woo new allies after losing old one like the Telangana Rashtra Samiti and Vaiko’s MDMK which had joined hands with Jayalalitha’s AIADMK in Tamil Nadu.
The Samajwadi Party, too, has withdrawn support to the UPA in the run-up to the UP assembly polls.
"Mayawati holds the veto power. She can influence the outcome of the presidential election," said a Union Minister. According to him, the Congress cannot afford to lose the polls if there is a contest for the post.
Smaller parties and potential third front partners can tilt the balance in the college. The value of votes of the UPA is 5.12 lakh, of the NDA 3.52 lakh and the non-UPA, non-NDA parties 2.29 lakh.