All UPA partners but one have endorsed my candidature

Amid reservations of the Trinamool Congress to his candidature, UPA presidential nominee Pranab Mukherjee made it clear here on Monday that he will approach Mamata Banerjee for support, only if she is willing to speak to him.

“I am ready to talk to her as and when she is ready. Since my candidature was announced, I have expressed my desire to have the support of the Trinamool,” Mr. Mukherjee said here.

Mr. Mukherjee was speaking to journalists after meeting the MPs and MLAs of the Congress, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Forward Bloc, the Samajwadi Party and the Democratic Socialist Party at two separate meetings. Mr. Mukherjee said all partners of the UPA had endorsed his candidature “except one.”

He emphasised that parties in the National Democratic Alliance and several regional parties were supporting his candidature.

“I understand that they [Trinamool Congress] have not yet taken a decision. When they will take the decision, I hope she will support my candidature,” he said.

Mr. Mukherjee’s comments are seen as a hardening of stand by the Congress, increasingly averse to going out of its way to seek the Trinamool’s support even though it would welcome it.

Mamata’s silence

So far Ms. Banerjee has maintained a studied silence on whom her party will support in the presidential contest. After her nominee, the former President, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, had opted out of the race, she had asserted the “game was not yet over.” Later she told her party MPs and MLAs she would take a final call on the matter three days before the July 19 election.

There has been a shift in the position of the Congress. Earlier, it had urged its bigger ally in the State to support Mr. Mukherjee’s candidature. However, at a meeting with him during the day, some of its senior State leaders were critical of the line taken by the Trinamool.

The Congress is confident of Mr. Mukherjee’s victory even without the support of the Trinamool Congress. Last week, during a visit here, Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram and Minister for Human Resource Development Kapil Sibal asserted that the UPA nominee would win the polls with at least 65 per cent of the votes.

This was irrespective of how the Trinamool decided on its stand regarding the election.

‘Initiative should come from candidate’

Special Correspondent reports:

In the ongoing war of nerves between the Congress and its biggest ally at the Centre over the presidential polls, the Trinamool Congress indicated on Monday that the first move on a dialogue should come from the ‘other side’.

Asked to respond to the comment made by Pranab Mukherjee that he was ready to talk to Mamata Banerjee whenever she was, senior Trinamool Congress leader and Panchayat and Rural Development Minister Subrata Mukherjee said: “He will have to speak his mind if he is keen to talk … when we contest elections, we approach everybody.”

“Pranab Mukherjee could have telephoned her to ascertain that and this requires no mediator,” Mr. Subrata Mukherjee said, adding that the party had no information of his visit to the state to campaign for the elections.

In an oblique reference to Pranab Mukherjee’s meeting with MPs and MLAs of Communist Party of India (Marxist) and Forward Bloc in the Assembly seeking their support for his candidature, the Panchayat Minister said “Some people feel comfortable in the company of CPI(M). If it makes them happy, so be it.”

“It is a shame to seek support of the CPI(M), we would never do this even if we were in dire straits,” Firhad Hakim, Minister for Urban Development, said.

To a question on the Trinamool Congress candidate for the polls, Subrata Mukherjee said that while the Trinamool Congress has no candidate, but A P J Kalam was its choice as the presidential candidate.