His bid for Presidency complicates matters for daughter, a Union Minister; Mamata facing revolt in party
The United Progressive Alliance’s presidential candidate Pranab Mukherjee will have to face a contest now that the former Lok Sabha Speaker Purno Sangma has resigned from the Nationalist Congress Party, enabling himself to make a bid to be the next incumbent of Rashtrapati Bhavan without “embarrassing” his party.
Mr. Sangma’s resignation, addressed to NCP president and Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar has been accepted, freeing him from the pressure of his party not to file his nomination and to support Mr. Mukherjee’s candidature instead.
In a press note, Mr. Sangma has reiterated that the Tribal Forum of India nominated him for election to the office of President, a nomination that has been endorsed by the All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the Biju Janata Dal. He also claims that he has “received promises of support from senior leaders of non-Congress parties, including those in the National Democratic Alliance.”
With the former President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s first choice for First Citizen, announcing on Tuesday that he did not wish to take a second shot for the keys of Rashtrapati Bhavan, Mr. Sangma’s chances of securing BJP support have brightened. Of the BJP’s allies in the NDA, the Shiv Sena has already declared it will back Mr. Mukherjee; the Janata Dal-United, currently engaged in a war of words with the BJP and the RSS, party sources say, is not very keen on Mr. Sangma; Shiromani Akali Dal chief Parkash Singh Badal has stated publicly his party will go with the NDA.
Mr. Sangma telephoned West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee on Saturday to seek her support, even though the two share a troubled history: in January 2004, Mr. Sangma sought to split the NCP after Mr. Pawar became close to Congress president Sonia Gandhi, but when he lost the battle for the NCP election symbol, he merged his faction with the Trinamool. However, in February 2006, he was re-elected an NCP candidate after he quit the Trinamool. Now, with Ms. Banerjee’s bid to prop up Mr. Kalam having failed, and her opposition to Mr. Mukherjee’s candidature still unwavering, Mr. Sangma’s overtures to her might make some impact.
But Mr. Sangma’s bid for the presidency has complicated matters for his daughter, Agatha Sangma, who now faces the prospect of being turfed off the Union Council of Ministers — she is MoS for Rural Development — if she campaigns for her father, a senior NCP leader indicated. “If she campaigns, we will have no option but to show her the door,” he said shortly after Mr. Sangma resigned from the party, a day ahead of a meeting of the NCP Parliamentary Board. The Congress, however, chose not to comment on the matter, with party spokesman Rashid Alvi saying, “Congress is not going to advise the NCP on what to do about Agatha.”
Personal issue, says son
Simultaneously, Mr. Sangma’s son and Leader of the Opposition in the Meghalaya Assembly Conrad K. Sangma told journalists that his father’s resignation from the NCP was a “personal” issue and would therefore “not have any impact on his membership of the NCP in Meghalaya.”
Meanwhile, Ms. Banerjee is facing a revolt in her party: dissident MP Kabir Suman has been in touch with Mr Mukherjee, and the Congress, party sources said, is in touch with other disgruntled Trinamool MPs and MLAs. So much so the Trinamool accused the Congress of attempting to split her party. “What Pranab has done is unethical... He is trying to break Trinamool,” State Minister and Trinamool leader Subrata Mukherjee said, adding, “Both Pranab and Suman are masters of unethical politics.”
In the UPA camp, members are busy working on the Mukherjee campaign: Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen president and Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi met jailed YSR Congress chief Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy on Tuesday to seek his party’s support for the UPA nominee.