Regional parties unlikely to put forward a candidate of their own

The Samajwadi Party (SP) will indicate its preference for a Presidential candidate only after the two major political parties, the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), make up their minds, a relaxed-looking Mulayam Singh said on Tuesday. Lounging in his party office on the third floor of Parliament House, the SP supremo also made it clear that even though there had been a great deal of interaction among the regional parties in recent weeks, they were unlikely to put forward a candidate of their own.

“I can't say anything at this moment,” Mr. Singh said, “let's see what the Congress and the BJP do, whether the BJP puts up a candidate or whether it supports someone else's candidate. The Congress is, after all, the ruling party and the BJP the biggest Opposition party.” Saying it was possible that the candidate could be either Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee or Vice President Hamid Ansari — as their names were in circulation — he stressed, “We will declare our preference after the Congress proposes a name.”

Mr. Singh's comments came on a day on which the former BJP president, Rajnath Singh, said in Lucknow that it would be best if the Congress proposed the name on whom there was consensus. And to a question whether Mr. Mukherjee could be that candidate, Mr. Singh said, “There is no doubt about his ability, capability and integrity.”

Sitting pretty on his heap of 68,812 votes, the SP leader, mellow in the afterglow of the huge victory his party recorded in Uttar Pradesh earlier this year, said that he met Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee recently (on May 3), but while they had “talked politics” as “all politicians do when they met each other,” no names of presidential candidates figured in the conversation. Indeed, he said that the regional and smaller parties were not going to project a candidate of their own — as was speculated on after his meeting with the West Bengal Chief Minister. And while he expressed admiration for Ms. Banerjee's “independence,” backed by the convincing majority her party won in West Bengal last year, Mr. Singh —who also met CPI(M) leaders Prakash Karat and Sitaram Yechury recently — was at pains to underscore that he had always enjoyed, and continued to, enjoy a “warm relationship” with the Left parties.

To a question whether there was any possibility of the SP joining the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) — as had been speculated on before the U.P. elections — to fill the spot that a whimsical Trinamool might vacate, he said, “I was never approached.” On whether he would like to see the general elections advanced, he said, “I would.” But he added that he believed that the UPA government would run “smoothly till 2014.”

On the possibility of a Third Front emerging before the next general elections, Mr. Singh sounded nostalgic and recalled the past, when the late CPI (M) veterans Harkishan Singh Surjeet and Jyoti Basu were alive. Pressed, the only point he was willing to proffer was: “The opposition needs to be strong to keep democracy alive.”

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