Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi’s arrival in the Capital on Monday lent extra momentum to the UPA’s search for a presidential nominee on whom consensus can be built.
Possible candidates were discussed during a series of consultations between Karunanidhi and other UPA leaders — including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi — but no name was finalised. The chief minister is believed to have told Sonia that he would go by her choice.
A major outcome of the deliberations was that the UPA leaders, in a symbol of unity, have decided to jointly announce their candidate in the second week of June, with the nominee expected to file his papers the following day.
Karunanidhi’s discussions with the PM and Sonia were believed to be crucial though there was no official word about what transpired.
The NCP’s Sharad Pawar was the first to call on Karunanidhi. Former Congress leader Shiv Shankar’s name reportedly came up during their conversation. Thirty minutes later, the CPM’s Prakash Karat called on the CM with his list of potential candidates. “We mentioned the credentials the potential president should have,” he told the Hindustan Times. Karunanidhi also met the CPI’s AB Bardhan and D Raja.
The Left has pitched for External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee. Privately, Congressmen endorse this view. But they are faced with the dilemma of replacing him as Leader of the House if he is elevated. Sources said Karat’s wishlist also included Union ministers Arjun Singh, Shivraj Patil and Sushilkumar Shinde. Arjun later told reporters: “I am not in any race… It is for the party to decide.”
The names of Mukherjee, Patil, Shinde and Karan Singh have cropped up during previous conversations between the Congress and Left. Since the Congress gives a premium to loyalty, AICC treasurer Motilal Vora’s name is also being mentioned in certain circles.
Vora’s utility lies in the fact that he might be acceptable to BSP chief Mayawati. But while finalizing the nominee, the Congress has to keep in mind whether the DMK would accept a “Brahmin” or the BSP a “Dalit” nominee.
“The office of the President is ceremonial. But it becomes crucial in a coalition era. And with Lok Sabha elections in 2009, the role of the President can be critical,” said a Congress leader. But political scientists like Professor Gurpreet Mahajan of JNU have a different view.
“A President has to act on the advice of the Council of Ministers. So, in that context, he is a nominal head. It is not necessary for him to be a political person. What is required is someone above party and partisan politics,” Mahajan said.