Consultations on Presidential nominee headed for decision
On a day of key political meetings, shortly after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi held consultations at the former's official residence, Ms. Gandhi's Political Secretary Ahmed Patel called on Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee at his office in North Block.
The meeting assumes significance at a time when Mr. Mukherjee has emerged as the front-runner for President, especially as Mr. Patel went to 10, Janpath immediately after his meeting with the Finance Minister to confer with Ms. Gandhi. Later in the evening, Mr. Mukherjee left for Kolkata.
Over the last two days, Ms. Gandhi has been holding separate meetings with United Progressive Alliance constituents: on Wednesday, she met Rashtriya Lok Dal chief Ajit Singh and on Thursday, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam's T.R. Baalu and M.K. Stalin, all of whom indicated their parties' support for Mr. Mukherjee if he is nominated as the Congress candidate. Mr. Baalu and Mr. Stalin also met Dr. Singh on Thursday.
Earlier, party sources said the Nationalist Congress Party, another ally, and the Samajwadi Party, which supports the UPA from outside, were willing to back the Congress nominee. The Bahujan Samaj Party, which also supports the UPA from outside, is unlikely to oppose the Congress candidate, party sources added. As for the Trinamool Congress, it is also expected to fall in line, as it would be politically unwise for the party to oppose a Bengali.
The consultations on the Congress nominee are clearly heading towards a decision, as the Election Commission is expected to announce the poll schedule on June 13 or thereabouts, with nominations ending around June 20 as the next President will be elected by July 24. It is therefore likely, Congress sources said, the party candidate will be announced by the end of next week.
The discussions of the Congress Core Group at the Prime Minister's residence were held shortly after noon on Friday — usually, these meetings are held on Friday evenings. Apart from Dr. Singh, Ms. Gandhi, Mr. Mukherjee and Mr. Patel, Home Minister P. Chidambaram and Defence Minister A.K. Antony are members of the Core Group.
The Core Group met against the backdrop of not just the Presidential polls but a slew of controversies that included the challenge to the government's proposal for a sub-quota for minorities in OBC reservation, the Trinamool torpedoing the Union Cabinet's efforts to clear the Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority Bill, 2011, which is high on the UPA's economic reforms agenda, and the political fallout of petrol price hike.
The meeting was also held in the wake of a fresh bid by Team Anna and Baba Ramdev to corner the government on corruption with the Yoga teacher meeting leaders of all parties, including those in the UPA, to seek their support on the black money issue. Party sources stressed that the subject of the Congress candidate for the Presidential polls did not figure in the Core Group's deliberations.
Sangma meets Advani
Meanwhile, the former Lok Sabha Speaker, P.A. Sangma, who has been named by the All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the Biju Janata Dal as their candidate, met BJP leader L.K. Advani on Friday morning to seek the support of the National Democratic Alliance as well. But BJP sources indicated that the party is unlikely to back Mr. Sangma.