The race for Rashtrapati Bhavan was thrown wide open on Wednesday. Two key UPA allies, the Trinamool Congress and Samajwadi Party, came out with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's name, along with that of former president APJ Abdul Kalam and former Lok Sabha speaker Somnath Chatterjee as their choices for the top post.
Their political manoeuvre probably put Congress' initial choice of finance minister Pranab Mukherjee and vice president Hamid Ansari out of serious reckoning and opened up the possibility of several scenarios.
Though some Congress sources ruled out the possibility of Singh participating in the presidential race, there was no official response from the party to the odd manner in which SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav and TMC leader Mamata Banerjee mentioned the PM name at a joint press conference.
If Mulayam and Mamata had actually challenged the Congress by proposing Singh's name, there was no outrage, as the party maintained studied silence.
The West Bengal chief minister drove to Yadav's house from Congress chief Sonia Gandhi's residence where, after the meeting, Banerjee had disclosed to the media that Mukherjee and Ansari were the Congress party' choices - and in that order.
Later, ignoring both the names, Mulayam and Mamata declared that the PM, Kalam and Chatterjee were their choices, saying any one of them would be acceptable to them. They also made it clear that the names they had proposed were not in order of preference.
The name of Singh as a possible presidential candidate had done the rounds for some time.
Gandhi, too, heaped praise for his stewardship of the government and the country at the Congress working committee though some Congress leaders had urged the UPA to undertake bold measures to shore up the government's image.
After making the announcement, the SP chief discussed the issue with NDA convenor Sharad Yadav while the BJP's core group decided to wait for the Congress response to their suggestion since they were UPA allies.
Earlier, Mamata said that Gandhi had informed her that her party's first choice for president was Mukherjee.
She said when she had pressed for a second choice, Gandhi mentioned Vice President Hamid Ansari's name.
She had also made it clear she was not using an economic package for West Bengal as a bargaining point in this matter.
"We had detailed discussions... Soniaji told me that she had held meetings with two-four allies and her first choice was Pranab Mukherjee and second choice Hamid Ansari," Mamata told reporters.
She said she had told Gandhi: "At the moment, I cannot say anything. We need to discuss with Mulayam Singh and my own party. Then only we can say something."
NCP leader Sharad Pawar reacted to the TMC-SP move, saying all the parties in the UPA would have to sit and consider the situation and evolve a consensus.
Meanwhile, Congress sources said Gandhi might call a meeting of UPA leaders to discuss the issue.
The PM is due to be away abroad for a week from June 16.