Home Minister Shivraj Patil has emerged as the Congress frontrunner for the presidential post, with the strong backing of party chief Sonia Gandhi. But the Left has serious reservations about him.
According to Congress sources, Patil, a staunch loyalist of the Gandhi family, seemed to be Sonia Gandhi's favourite choice after Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati - whose support the Congress is banking on - shot down the candidature of Power Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde, a Dalit.
Mayawati is believed to have agreed to extend her party's support to Patil to succeed President APJ Abdul Kalam, who retires in July, sources told IANS on condition of anonymity.
"The Congress president seems to be keen on getting Patil to be fielded as the party candidate," said a United Progressive Alliance (UPA) leader. He added that Gandhi had indicated her choice to a few UPA veterans.
But the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), which heads the Left block and whose support is vital for UPA, has told the Congress they do not want Patil in the Rashtrapati Bhavan.
Left sources told IANS that they do not view Patil as a man with impeccable secular credentials.
"Left leaders were of the view that Patil could not be expected to be a neutral person. The Left wants a secular and absolutely impartial person in Rashtrapati Bhavan," said a senior CPI-M leader who did not want to be identified by name.
CPI-M sources indicated that Left leaders would discuss the issue again after general secretary Prakash Karat returns on Friday from his eight-day tour of Portugal and Greece.
Congress sources said a decision on who would be UPA's presidential candidate would be taken by Tuesday or Wednesday after External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee - who earlier many thought would be the first pick -- holds a final round of discussions with Congress allies.
A new president will take office in July, through an election if there is no consensus.
Some Congress leaders suggested that Mukherjee, who presides over the cabinet when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is out of the country, is indispensable in the cabinet considering his seniority.
Some Congress sources also said that Sonia Gandhi did not want Mukherjee, who at one time in the 1980s left the party, to be the Indian president.
Patil's proximity with Gandhi is not a secret. Gandhi chose Patil as the home minister though he lost the 2004 Lok Sabha elections from Latur in Maharashtra.
Sonia Gandhi has always backed Patil despite the many criticisms against his style of functioning as home minister.
The UPA-Left combine needs 549,442 of the total 1.09 million votes to ensure the victory of its nominee in the presidential polls. The Congress has 280,000 while the share of its allies is 114,647. The Left claims 110,988 votes.
An electoral college of MPs and legislators across the country elect the president. The value of a legislator's vote is decided on the basis of the state's population. An MP's vote value is 708.
But the Congress-UPA-Left total, while being marginally more than that of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), is not enough to win the election. That is where the BSP, with its new-found status, comes in.