With YSR Congress in the NDA camp for the Presidential election and the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) seemingly equivocal on its support, all eyes in the Opposition ranks will be on Tuesday’s meeting between Congress president Sonia Gandhi and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
Banerjee reached Delhi on Monday evening, responding to Sonia’s call last week. Opposition parties have had several meetings over the past few days in a bid to put up a consensus candidate for the top post but the Trinamool Congress (TMC) was not represented in those meetings. Although the TMC has wavered in the past few months from its initial support for a second term for President Pranab Mukherjee, there is an understanding that Mukherjee may still be the most acceptable face for the opposition parties.
That speculation has already received a fillip with Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar on Monday putting forward Mukherjee’s name. The Congress leadership is also learnt to be pushing his candidature, although the party is open to other names in the interest of political consensus, sources said.
Mukherjee, whose term ends in July, is likely to throw his hat into the ring only if he is a consensus candidate assured of victory, and may not be keen to enter a contest. YSR Congress chief Jagan Mohan Reddy had met PM Narendra Modi last week to assure him of his party’s support.
While BJD chief and Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has had multiple meetings with Opposition leaders and backed the need for secular parties to unite, the party has not yet made its stance clear on the Presidential elections. The fact that Jharkhand Governor Draupadi Murmu’s name is doing the rounds as a possible NDA candidate naturally makes it a difficult call for Patnaik, as Murmu comes from Odisha.
Not that the TMC’s choices are not complicated. A few months ago, Banerjee had told a Bangla channel that she is not averse to the candidature of either BJP leader L K Advani or that of External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, or even Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan.