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Mamata steals the thunder

The West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee and the Samajwadi Party president Mulayam Singh Yadav, on Wednesday, may have unleashed the much-awaited Kamraj Plan on the Congress party, which in the past one year has been tottering from one crisis to another.

One section of political observers believe that by announcing the name of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as one of their preferred candidates for the Rashtrapati Bhawan, the powerful Uttar Pradesh-Bengal axis, with a tacit support from the Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, could have done the bidding for the Congress president Sonia Gandhi. However, another section believes that the deteriorating relationship between Banerjee and the Congress, particularly the finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, may have prompted Banerjee to reject him. Sources say that Banerjee  and Mukhernee have not interacted for the last six months.

Banerjee first had a meeting with the Congress president at 10, Janpath, in the afternoon, after which she announced that Mukherjee was Gandhi's first choice for the top job. However, the glee which accompanied the announcement clearly indicated that the last had not been heard on the matter. A few hours later, after meeting Yadav, she dropped the bombshell. In between she is believed to have a 15-minute-long telephonic conversation with Nitish Kumar.

After the surprise announcement, she rescheduled her pre-decided meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for Thursday. The Prime Minister's Office did its bit by stating that though she was meeting the prime minister at around noon, giving ample scope for political bargain before a deal was struck.

To sugar-coat the bitter pill of not backing a fellow Bengali for her electorate back home, Banerjee may have decided on the name of the former Lok Sabha speaker and veteran Marxist leader Somanth Chatterjee, whom she had defeated in a Lok Sabha election during her early days in politics. Yadav did the similar exercise to placate his Muslim vote bank, for rejecting Gandhi's 'second choice' Vice President Hamid Ansari by putting the former president A P J Abdul Kalam's name on their list. Banerjee wanted Gopal Krshna Gandhi's name on the list as well, but sources say that Yadav did not agree on it.

With Chatterjee unlikely to find serious consideration as of now, the choice may be between Manmohan Singh and Kalam. However, in the case of Singh moving to the Rashtrapati Bhawan, the much-awaited revamp in the Congress and the government would become a natural corollary of the development. Though sources in the Congress said that it is too early to indicate if the path was being cleared for the party general secretary Rahul Gandhi.

With the Congress president unable to do much to rejuvenate her party and the government following the defeat in the assembly polls, allegations of corruption and inability to overcome economic crisis, shifting Singh westward from his South Block office to the Rashtrapati Bhawan may give Sonia Gandhi the opportunity to put her poll team in place in the run-up to the 2014 General Election.

The story of political developments on Wednesday, thus, looks more about Mukherjee losing out in the race rather than other candidates emerging ahead.


SENIOR BJP LEADERS SKIP PREZ POLL MEET

On a day when the race to the Rashtrapati Bhawan had all the twists and turns, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) looked in no hurry to decide their candidate.

Their lack of seriousness can be gauged from the fact that a meeting of its core committee held on Wednesday to discuss the matter was skipped by three senior leaders.

The committee is believed to have discussed the three names floated by Mamata banerjee and Mulayam Singh Yadav. However, the party would make a public posture only after the Congress puts its cards on the table. Sources within the BJP said that the meeting was called after its key ally Janata Dal (United) expressed frustration over the delay. The senior leader L K Advani, who has had differences with the BJP president Nitin Gakdari, skipped the meeting, citing a scheduled programme in Tamil Nadu as the reason.

The other two leaders who skipped the meet were Arun Jaitley and Venkaiah Naidu.
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