The Presidential election will be held on July 19, but the Congress is yet to win the support of the Left for the possible candidature of Home Minister Shivraj Patil for the top job.
Announcing the schedule, the Election Commission said the poll notification will be issued on June 16. The last date for filing nomination papers is June 30 and that for withdrawal is July 4. Votes will be counted on July 21.
Though the Congress has not formally spelt out Patil's name, the Left parties have objected to it, renewing their call for External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee's nomination. In response, for the second time in less than a month, Mukherjee dismissed his candidature as "speculation and tenditious". His role in party and government, he said, would be decided by the Congress leadership.
By ruling himself out, Mukherjee limited the communists' option and put pressure on them to accept the candidate chosen by UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi. She is expected to decide the UPA nominee by Thursday after consulting allies and supporting parties.
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and DMK leader M Karunanidhi's arrival in the Capital late on Wednesday set the stage for him to broker peace between the Congress and the Left. Karunanidhi held talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Sonia was also present. He is likely to confer with Left leaders on Thursday.
The DMK chief, who has said he would back a Congress nominee, did not speak to newspersons. But DMK sources said "two or three" names were discussed at the 45-minute meeting though there was no consensus. Karunanidhi declined to tell his supporters whether Patil's name was discussed but reportedly emphasized that the UPA nominee should be one who could win the election.
However, in claiming "no consensus", Karunanidhi seemed to take a "politically correct" line as he and the Congress leaders are yet to talk with the Left.
Shortly after Sonia got the Bahujan Samaj Party on board, the Left privately expressed resentment that Mayawati was taken into confidence about the candidate. The UP chief minister had told reporters that during their dinner meeting, she and Sonia discussed some names and agreed on one.
In this backdrop, the Left reiterated that the nominee should be a person of political stature, with secular credentials and sound knowledge of the Constitution. They faulted Patil for being soft on Hindutva and questioned his ability to win if Shekhawat stands as an Independent.
A senior Left leader said that their opinion about Patil had been conveyed to the Congress leadership earlier. He added that if the Congress remained adamant, matters would only get complicated. "It (Patil's candidature) is the Congress's problem. We have made our stand clear," the leader said.
But with allies like the RJD and NCP publicly saying they will back the Congress nominee, the Left appears to be isolated. On Wednesday, it reached out to UPA allies to build an opinion against Patil's candidature.
The CPI's AB Bardhan and D Raja met RJD and NCP chiefs Lalu Yadav and Sharad Pawar. "Both expressed hope that if the UPA, the BSP and Left stayed together, Shekhawat could be defeated. But we asked, who is the presidential candidate," Raja said.
Lok Sabha secretary general PDT Achary will be the returning officer for the poll. Chief Election Commissioner N Gopalaswami said President APJ Abdul Kalam's term was due to end on July 24 and the election process had to be completed before that.