Congress still playing cards close to its chest
A day after the AIADMK and the Biju Janata Dal endorsed Purno A. Sangma's candidature for President, the former Lok Sabha Speaker's chances in the Rashtrapati Bhavan sweepstakes dominated informal discussions across political parties. With Parliament still in session on Friday, conversations in its corridors centred round the significance of the move.
The most credible explanation came from BJD circles: since a candidate proposed by the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance would not find favour with Opposition parties not inclined towards the BJP, and a Left-sponsored nominee would be opposed by the NDA, a name floated by the AIADMK and the BJD — both currently unattached to any political formation — might find readier acceptance across the Opposition. The BJD sources said that of late the Chief Ministers of Odhisha and Tamil Nadu — Naveen Patnaik and Jayalalithaa — tended to be in close touch with their counterparts in West Bengal, Bihar and Gujarat, Mamata Banerjee, Nitish Kumar and Narendra Modi.
Would such a move succeed? Perhaps not, agreed the BJD sources, as the numbers will favour the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance, provided it stays intact and gets the backing of the Left Parties and the support of either the Samajwadi Party or the Bahujan Samaj Party. Besides, Mr Sangma's own party, the Nationalist Congress Party, the sources pointed out, clarified on Friday that it would stay with the UPA. On Thursday, NCP supremo and Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar told journalists that Mr. Sangma had not spoken to him on the subject; on Friday, when the former Speaker met him, Mr. Pawar told him that the NCP was part of the UPA and his stand on the issue would be consistent with it.
The BJP, on its part, has been coy about Mr. Sangma's candidature, even though his name comes from the AIADMK, a party it has been assiduously wooing, hoping it will swell the NDA ranks before the next polls.
Meanwhile, in the Congress, no new names have emerged after those of Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Vice-President Hamid Ansari. On Friday, MPs of many non-Congress parties, including the BSP and the Left, concurred that if Mr. Mukherjee became the UPA's official candidate, he could easily find support across Parliament and emerge as a consensus candidate, considering his stature and standing.
Most MPs of the Congress The Hindu spoke to said the possibility of Mr. Sangma emerging as a challenge to its candidate — whoever it is — was remote, as they were confident that the UPA and the parties that support it from outside had an edge in terms of numbers.
But even as the pros and cons of Mr. Sangma's candidature were discussed, it was evident that a majority in the Congress view him with disfavour, given the manner of his exit from the party in the late 1990s. A Congress secretary Praveen Davar even issued a statement, accusing Mr. Sangma of playing the BJP's game, and saying, “Mr. Purno Sangma lacks both the political and ethical stature expected of the nation's Rashtrapati.” But as Mr. Sangma continues to lobby tribal legislators, his entry into the race has begun to generate some excitement, with some MPs even saying his entry will force the Congress to declare its candidate soon.
As far as the Congress is concerned, party sources said that while the names of Mr. Mukherjee and Mr. Ansari were still on the table, it was possible that a dark horse could emerge in a couple of weeks— a name that might help the party in one of the States going to the polls over the next two years.