Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee was today named the UPA candidate for the President's post as the TMC-SP combine, which had proposed APJ Abdul Kalam as their nominee, appeared to have broken in a significant gain for the ruling coalition.
Sonia made the announcement after a meeting of UPA leaders at Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's residence. The announcement is a rebuttal to Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee, who wanted APJ Abdul Kalam as President.
Ending months of speculation, the ruling coalition met at the residence of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and its Chairperson Sonia Gandhi put forward the name of the 77-year-old veteran Congressman from West Bengal as its candidate, which was unanimously approved by the leaders of the constituent parties. President Dada!
Reading out from a statement, Gandhi said, Pranab Mukherjee has a long and distinguished record of public service spanning over five decades.
"There is broad support for his candidature. The UPA appeals to all the political parties and all MPs and MLAs to support the candidature of Mukherjee for the office of President," she said.
Significantly, the UPA announcement was immediately greeted by Samajwadi Party and its arch rival in Uttar Pradesh BSP, who both extended their support to Mukherjee.
The SP backing to the UPA candidate signals a break with its new-found ally Trinamool Congress along with which it had only on Wednesday proposed the names of Kalam, Manmohan Singh and Somnath Chaterjee as their candidate to counter Congress choice of Mukherjee.
Ramgopal Yadav, senior leader of the SP, which had virtually gone quite after the initial announcement of choosing Kalam, declared that his party supported Mukherjee as President. "I am very happy that Pranab da has been finally nominated for the candidate for the biggest office. The party supports him and wishes him well for the victory," Yadav, brother of SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, said.
Similarly, BSP supremo Mayawati pledged her party's backing for the Congress veteran, saying he is the most able candidate of all those announced. "Our party has decided to vote in favour of Pranab Mukherjee," she said at a press conference in Lucknow, shortly after UPA's announcement.
With support of SP and BSP, the UPA candidate is in a position to garner nearly half of the total vote value of 10,98,882. On its own, UPA has a vote value of 4.12 lakh after deducting TMC's 48,049.
But the addition of 1.12 lakh vote value of SP (68,812) and BSP (43,349) will take the vote value of UPA to 5.24 lakh. This leaves the ruling alliance with a slight deficit of 25,000 vote value, assuming all other parties are ranged against the UPA candidate.
The BJP-led NDA has a vote value of 3.04 lakh while the left Parties account for over 51,000 vote value.
The UPA announcement ended all the speculation over who will be its candidate after several names were made the rounds including Vice-President Hamid Ansari and dark horse Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar.
Ever since the TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee and SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav proposed Kalam and two others, there has been speculation that Yadav might not stick to the TMC game.
Though the two leaders appeared at a press conference on Wednesday night to announce their candidates, it was only Banerjee who was claiming that the two parties were sticking to Kalam's candidature.
On Thursday, Yadav did not appear for a joint press interaction with Banerjee, an indication that all was not well between the two parties.
SP leaders have been maintaining that Kalam was not their final choice and further signs of differences between the two parties were visible today when Ramgopal Yadav said "hamara" candidate could mean both "ours and mine", indicating Kalam was only Banerjee's choice.
Mulayam Singh Yadav further added grist to the mill when he preferred to be vague when he was asked whether SP was still backing Kalam.
After making the announcement, DMK leader TR Baalu draped a pink shawl around Gandhi's shoulder and gave her a bouquet of white orchids. He then presented an orange stole to the prime minister and to Mukherjee.
The days of tension over, Mukherjee was visibly relaxed with slight smile on his face. There was a round of applause from all the members after the announcement.
Manmohan Singh, Gandhi and Mukherjee then stood up for a photo-op. The prime minister signalled Mukherjee to come and stand between him and Gandhi, who looked tired after the two days of high violtage political drama.
Gandhi then appealed to all political parties, all members of parliament and members of state assemblies to support Mukherjee.
"The leaders of the UPA constituents met today. It was decided to propose Mukherjee as the candidate for the office of the president of India," she said, reading the statement.
Soon after the meeting, Manmohan Singh telephoned Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Sushma Swaraj and conveyed to her the UPA decision, BJP sources said.
The UPA will need the support of Samajwadi Party and the BSP to elect Mukherjee as president. The BJP-led NDA is expected to announce its presidential candidate.
with PTI inputs