On Tuesday, Congress president Sonia Gandhi crossed the first of two main hurdles in securing the support of parties that back the United Progressive Alliance from outside. Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati formally extended her unconditional support to the UPA nominee whose name, she said, would be disclosed by Sonia Gandhi. But the Left parties continue to hold out.
"We will take a final decision on the strategy for the presidential election after consultations with Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi tomorrow and other parties in the UPA coalition," said CPI-M's Prakash Karat after a meeting with leaders of the CPI, RSP and Forward Bloc. A UPA-Left meeting is likely after that to finalise the name of the coalition's candidate.
Until now, leaders of the UPA and supporting parties have consistently maintained the Congress has not offered any name for the top post. But while announcing her support of the UPA candidate, Mayawati admitted she and Sonia discussed "some names" over dinner on Monday and reached a consensus on one particular name. "Sonia Gandhi will announce that name," she told a press conference. Sources said the names on the table include Patil, Union Ministers Arjun Singh and Sushilkumar Shinde, Deputy Leader in Rajya Sabha Dr Karan Singh and former Uttaranchal chief minister ND Tiwari.
Mayawati ruled out supporting Shekhawat even if he contested as an Independent.
It now remains for the Congress to get the Left on board and ensure there are no glitches in the allies' commitment to a UPA nominee. Shortly after the Left meeting, Sonia conferred with Pranab Mukherjee, AK Antony and Ahmed Patel — her interlocuters for evolving a consensus on the nominee. There was no official word on it but there is a possibility of a quid pro quo with the Left for the Vice President's post that falls vacant in August.
Though the Congress has not yet given any name to the Left for the presidential poll, Patil fails to have made an impression on the Communists. Forward Bloc continued to pitch for External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee. On Tuesday, they reiterated their stand that the nominee should have stature, impeccable secular credentials and sound knowledge of the Constitution. A senior Left leader told
: "We do not consider Patil to be an effective candidate. We do not consider that he would be able to defeat the NDA candidate."
With the numbers stacked in favour of the UPA, Left and Bahujan Samaj Party combine in the electoral college, the NDA, on the face of it, does not appear to provide a contest. Slated to meet on Wednesday, the NDA parties will not meet on June 18 — the day the Third Front parties meet in Chennai. Since the UPA would have announced its candidate by then, the NDA would be in a position to guage whether it can make a contest of it with Shekhawat fighting the election as an Independent.