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Race for Raisina far from over

Thursday was abuzz with political activities, as various party heads held meetings at different levels. In was, for starters, the Congress’ turn to snub West Bengal Chief Minster Mamata Banerjee, by rejecting her proposed choice of presidential candidates. But Mamata assuredly said she wont quit or topple the UPA. Even the Congress spokesperson Janardan Dwivedi asserted that Mamata was still an ally of the Congress.

Mamata, along with Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, managed to put the United Progressive Alliance in a fix, when it came to unveiling the name of their much-hyped presidential poll candidate. After the Mamata-Mulayam duo announced their list of preferred names – Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, former president APJ Abdul Kalan and former Lok Sabha speaker Somnath Chaterjee - for the Rashtrapati Bhawan, the Congress rejected their choices. In fact, the Congress stuck to their choice and snubbed Banerjee for announcing Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee’s name as the frontrunner for the post, after her meeting with Congress president Sonia Gandhi.

The Trinamool Congress reacted strongly by asserting that if Congress proposed Pranab’s name, then there will be a contest. Countering the attack by the Congress, TMC MP Kunal Ghosh asserted that Mamata did not break any decorum by announcing the Congress’ candidates openly. Ghosh told media-persons, ‘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.’

Questioning the Mamata-Mulayam camaraderie, Congress General Secretary Janardan Dwivedi told reporters, ‘We can not afford to spare Dr Manmohan Singh as Prime Minister. The other two names [APJ Abdul Kalam and Somnath Chatterjee] are not acceptable.’

Dwivedi added that the Prime Minister will retain his post till 2014 and the party had no plans of changing its leader in between. Slamming Mamata Banerjee for revealing Mukerjee and Ansari’s names after her meet with Sonia, Dwivedi said: ‘There is a dignity to the process. When such talks are held, names are not discussed outside.’

Senior Congress leader Ambika Soni also attacked Banerjee vociferously. She said: ‘Disclosing three names including that of the Prime Minister of India I think... this is something which does not make any political or ethical sense. Never ever there has been an instance where a sitting PM’s name has been taken like this.’ Soni added,

‘It is a constitutional post, he heads the government and the country and one desists from such lack of courtesy... People of our country would wonder why such tactics are being adopted by political parties.’

Amidst all this chaos, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee told reporters, ‘Who will be the presidential candidate will be decided shortly and you will come to know who is going to be the Congress presidential candidate.’

But shortly after this he spoke to former West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and West Bengal Left Front Chairperson Biman Bose on Thursday afternoon, seeking Left Front’s support during the presidential election.

Mukherjee had a telephonic conversation with Bhattacharjee, who is in Kolkata, and discussed the developments related to the presidential election. As the political drama further unfolded, Sonia met Nationalist Congress Party [NCP] leader Sharad Pawar, resulted in garnering Pawar’s support for any candidate put up by the UPA.

Even Samajwadi Party general secretary Ram Gopal Yadav slammed the Congress saying the party’s approach to the presidential poll was wrong, as it had consulted smaller parties but not the bigger ones. He mentioned that the Samajwadi Party will talk to the Congress if it wanted to.

Mamata, meanwhile, met Mulayam, and made it clear that she would not attend the meeting of UPA leaders in Delhi on Friday and will support APJ Abdul Kalam for President.

While Mamata moved to Yadav’s residence, a Congress Core Group meeting took place at Prime Minister’s 7, Race Course road residence. According to Congress sources, two names – Mukherjee and Ansari — from their side will be discussed in the meeting on Friday.

'While it is up to Banerjee if she wants to attend the meeting or not, we want to discuss this issue with our allies. In fact, the final decision of the party maybe even announced on Friday.’
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