A contest could be inevitable for the Presidential elections if the opinion of a section of ruling UPA, which is pitching against arriving at a consensus with opposition NDA for the top post, prevails.
While the decision on the candidate of the ruling alliance is expected to be finalised by June eight, a section of UPA maintains External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee was the most suitable candidate to take on Vice President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat who has emerged as NDA's hot favourite as its nominee.
The names of Union Ministers Shivraj Patil, Arjun Singh and Sushil Kumar Shinde as also senior Congress leaders Karan Singh and Motilal Vora are also doing the rounds for the high office.
Congress sources say it would have to give the post of vice president to one of its allies as part of a package deal.
NDA has been chanting the mantra of consensus and has not announced any candidate so far. But it is an open secret that Shekhawat is raring for a fight and is banking on friends in all political parties.
The task of choosing a candidate for the top post is ticklish for UPA given the fact that it could not become a winner in a contest unless its nominee is backed by Left parties and also BSP.
Incumbent A P J Abdul Kalam is retiring on July 24 and the elections for the high office is expected to be announced anytime.
The Left has said the Presidential nominee must have a political background and impeccable secular credentials.
The future President must be able to exercise judgment to maintain balance between Parliament, Executive and Judiciary, it said.
Despite the Left and some UPA allies insisting on a political person as the Presidential candidate, Congress did not rule out an apolitical person for the top post. Congress criterion for the Presidential candidate was that he should be a 'highly experienced person with secular credentials', party spokesman Satyvrat Chaturvedi has said.
BSP supremo Mayawati, whose party holds the key to the choice of next Presidential candidate, held talks with Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh last week and has promised a decision after consulting party MPs and MLAs in the coming days.
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi, who also held parleys with Gandhi, the Prime Minister, other UPA constituents and Left parties, indicated yesterday that a decision is unlikely before the first week of next month.