Congress acknowledges that he is indeed in the race for President
Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee is the front runner for President, as formal and informal consultations among the constituents of the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) on the election, scheduled for July, have gained momentum.
This became evident on Thursday, when Congress spokesman Rashid Alvi was forced to acknowledge — for the first time in public — that Mr. Mukherjee was indeed in the race, after another spokesperson Renuka Chaudhary went on record earlier in the day that he was too “valued” a leader to the party and the government to be spared for the post of President.
It is not immediately clear what prompted Ms. Chaudhary to jump the gun, especially since the Congress has not contested reports in the media that Mr. Mukherjee is one of the preferences of the party. Vice-President Hamid Ansari has been projected as the other choice.
Earlier in the week, the BJP ruffled the feathers of some allies of the NDA, with Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj ruling out support to either Mr. Mukherjee or Mr. Ansari, saying the former was a Congress leader and the latter did not have “stature.”
The BJP has gone quiet after the faux pas, but the Congress has stepped up consultations. Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee, who is here to attend the Chief Ministers' meeting on the National Counter-Terrorism Centre on May 5, met Congress president Sonia Gandhi, amid indications that her party may have no problem with the candidature of either Mr. Ansari or Mr. Mukherjee.
On her meeting with Ms. Gandhi, Ms. Banerjee merely said she would prefer consensus, and it was for the Congress to take a decision on the nominee.
Ms. Banerjee, who also had an hour-long meeting with Samajwadi Party chief Mulayum Singh, said the two parties would take a joint decision. Significantly, Mr. Yadav said earlier that the next President should be “political.”
Ms. Gandhi, who held discussions on the issue with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at Parliament House — with Mr. Mukherjee joining them — said in response to a question from journalists that there was no confusion over the candidates. “Be patient, still there is time.”
The Left parties will hold preliminary discussions on Friday, amid indications that they will have no issue with either of the Congress' choices.