Dinner meetings and a birthday party took centrestage on Monday as top Congress leaders launched intense consultations with other political parties to find a consensus presidential candidate after their return from overseas visit.
Congress leader Sonia Gandhi, who returned from the Netherlands, dined with UP Chief Minister and Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati in New Delhi. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, back from the G-8 summit in Germany, met Sonia and other party officials to take stock of the possibility of a consensus ahead of a crucial meeting of the Left parties on Tuesday.
The two leaders later joined Union Railway Minister Lalu Yadav at his residence to celebrate his 60th birthday. It was not clear whether the presidential election was discussed at the birthday bash where Lalu cut a four-tier cake.
Union Defence Minister AK Antony and Sonia's political secretary Ahmed Patel met Sonia Gandhi and later called on the Prime Minister at his residence. Antony and Patel, along with External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee — who the Left parties want in the Rashtrapati Bhavan — have been entrusted with the task of ensuring that the Congress nominee is named as a common UPA candidate. Mukherjee was not present at the meeting.
The hectic discussions are a precursor to the Left parties' meeting before Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and DMK leader M Karunanidhi arrives in the capital on Wednesday for a final round of talks. A joint announcement on the UPA candidate's name is expected after this meeting.
Home Minister Shivraj Patil is the frontrunner for the job though the Left parties have reservations about his candidature and ability to win if Vice President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat contests as an independent. Former UP Governor Motilal Vora is seen to be another possible candidate.