New Delhi: 4 PM: Trinamool Congress on Thursday said that West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee did not break any decorum by making public the Congress’s choices for the Presidential poll on Wednesday. TMC MP Kunal Ghosh said that Congress president Sonia Gandhi did give the consent to Mamata to share the meeting information in the public.
“Mamata has not broken any decorum. Sonia gave consent to Mamata when she asked if she can tell the reporters what happened in the meeting. She also informed Sonia that she will tell the two names. There is also no change in the stand of Samajwadi Party,” Ghosh said.
3:40 PM: Congress core group meeting at 5:30 PM. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to meet Sonia Gandhi meet before Congress meet.
3:30 PM: UPA meeting at 11 AM on Friday. NDA, too, will meet on Friday
2:38 PM: Trinamool Congress chief and West bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has said that Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav has assured her that APJ Abdul Kalam remains his preferred candidate for the President’s post and that he will not change his stand. Mamata Banerjee is also unlikely to attend the UPA meeting on Friday.
The Samajwadi Party will hold its parliamentary board meeting on Thursday evening, sources said. They also said that Mamata Banerjee will meet Mulayam Singh Yadav on Thursday evening.
2:35 PM: Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee on Thursday spoke to former West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya.
2:17 PM: The Shiromani Akali Dal on Thursday said that they will support former president APJ Abdul Kalam’s candidature for the President’s post.
2:15 PM: Following her meeting with senior BJP leader LK Advani, AIADMK supremo and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa on Thursday said that the entire exercise of selecting the candidate for the President’s post has been botched by the Congress. She said there has not been any consensus on a candidate.
2:05 PM: Senior BJP leader LK Advani on Thursday discussed the Presidential race with AIADMK supremo and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa. Advani said that the UPA has not been able to create a consensus within its allies. The NDA will meet on Friday to take a stock of the situation, he said.
“Never before the President polls were so clumsy. I discussed the issue of Presidential election with Jayalalithaa. The NDA will meet on Friday to discuss the situation. All the names figured in the discussion with Jayalalithaa,” he told reporters.
1:50 PM: Congress President Sonia Gandhi will meet NCP chief Sharad Pawar at 5 pm on Thursday to discuss the Presidential candidate.
1 PM: Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee has said that the UPA’s Presidential candidate will be announced soon. “The UPA and Congress have set up a President candidate. Now that candidate will be announced shortly,” Pranab said.
The Congress on Thursday took on the Trinamool Congress-Samajwadi Party combine and rejected their choices for the President’s post which in a major embarrassment to UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi also included Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. In the first official reaction after the Mamata Banerjee-Mulayam Singh Yadav snub to the Congress’s candidates, party spokesperson Janardhan Dwivedi said, “Manmohan Singh will remain the Prime Minister till 2014.”
Dwivedi also said that the names of former Lok Sabha speaker Somnath Chatterjee and former President APJ Abdul Kalam proposed by Mamata and Mulayam were not acceptable to the Congress. He added that Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Vice-President Hamid Ansari were the party’s preferred choices and would continue to remain so.
Lashing out at Mamata, Dwivedi said, “Names come up during discussions and there is sanctity to close door talks. Mamata should not have announced the details of the meeting in public.”
Mamata had met Sonia on Wednesday afternoon to discuss the possible candidates for the President and then told the media that Pranab Mukherjee and Hamid Ansari were the Congress candidates. Later on Wednesday evening she met Mulayam and put forward three names – Somnath Chatterjee, APJ Abdul Kalam and Manmohan Singh – while keeping quite on Pranab and Ansari. The inclusion of Manmohan’s name was seen a stinging indictment of the Congress-led UPA government.
The announcement by the TMC and Samajwadi Party chiefs stunned the Congress but now the party seems to be strategising to checkmate the Mamata-Mulayam duo by going in for Pranab Mukherjee’s candidature for the President’s post. Sonia Gandhi met Pranab on Thursday at her residence. She also met Defence Minister AK Antony, Home Minister P Chidambaram and DMK leader TR Baalu on Thursday.
Sources say that the Congress will name its candidate in within the next 24 hours. A Congress Core Committee meeting is scheduled for Thursday at 5:30 pm.
The Congress sees the Mamata-Mulayam bonhomie as a way to create a political crisis where there can a mid-term Lok Sabha election within the next 12 months. While rejecting the Congress’s choice for the President, the duo did manage to sent out a strong message to the Congress leadership that “don’t take us for granted.”
While the Congress may not agree on Pranab Mukherjee’s candidature, the party may ask for another name for the President from Mamata and Mulayam. While the Congress will try to push for Pranab’s name, there is a possibility also that in the next 24 hours a compromise is reached outside the five names – Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Vice-President Hamid Ansari, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, former president APJ Abdul Kalam, and former Lok Sabha speaker Somnath Chatterjee – that have been doing the rounds.
Mulayam has reportedly no problem with Pranab’s candidature but he wants to create a political situation where there could be an election for the post. Mamata has a personal problem with Pranab and she is determined not to allow him to become the President.
Moreover, if the Pranab’s name is forced on Mamata, she is capable of walking out of the UPA.
As of now, Congress is playing a high risk game by pushing Pranab’s name. The numbers at the movement are such that there is a slight edge to the UPA and Pranab is the kind of person who may attract floating voters as the Samajwadi Party is unlikely to oppose him.
The Congress is also counting that apart from Mulayam, Mamata and BJP, no one wants an election.
Here is a look at where the parties stand on Pranab and Kalam’s candidature:
10, 98, 882: Total number of votes (5,49,408 of MPs and 5,49,474 of MLAs)
5,49,442: Minimum votes required for President to be elected
Support for Pranab
Congress + DMK + NCP + NC + RJD + RLD = 413558 votes (37.6 per cent)
Support for Kalam
BJP + AIADMK + BJD + TDP + SP + TMC = 462896 votes (42 per cent)
Magic Figure: 549442
JDU + LEFT + BSP + Others = 222428 votes (20.4 per cent)