The drama over who will be UPAs presidential nominee almost went out of control for the Congress today,requiring the intervention of its president Sonia Gandhi to quell speculation that the party had decided against fielding Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee.
There is no confusion. Be patient,there is still time, Sonia said amid conflicting signals from her party.
It all started with Congress spokesperson Renuka Chowdhury saying Mukherjee was very valuable for the party and the government in response to queries on his candidature.
Hardly had this sunk in when Trinamool Congress head and West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee seemed to put her stamp of approval before crowded reporters in Parliament. I think their party has already announced today that he (Mukherjee) is not (the candidate)… I cannot say anything.
For her part,sources said,Banerjee made it clear to the Congress that her party should not be put in a position to take a call on either of the candidates just like the TMC cannot oppose a Bengali presidential candidate (read Mukherjee),it cannot be seen turning down the name of a Muslim candidate (read Hamid Ansari). Let Congress make its choice public first, said Sudip Bandopadhyay,TMCs leader in the Lok Sabha.
At the same time,Banerjee maintained that a consensus should not be ruled out. However,its learnt that for TMC,a lot would depend on the fate of its demand for a three-year moratorium on West Bengals debt repayment. This will be on top of Banerjees agenda when she meets Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Friday.
In fact,the Congress president held deliberations with the Prime Minister and the Finance Minister at the start of the day in the Parliament House,during which Banerjees demands were discussed.
Meanwhile,Samajwadi Party president Mulayam Singh Yadav held forth on the Parliament House porch underlining the importance of the President being a political personality. How can I give you names when nothing has been told to us? But I have always believed that the President should be a political person.
As all this fueled speculation,Congress managers rushed in to quickly emphasise that Chowdhurys remarks were personal and that Mukherjee was still in the fray. Its learnt that Sonia Gandhis office instructed the Congress media cell to clarify immediately. Simultaenously,Chowdhury was asked to retract her statement,who searched out media representatives to qualify her earlier remarks as a personal opinion.
Later in the official Congress briefing,Rashid Alvi said: Pranab Mukherjee is important for the government,for the party and important for the country but that does not go against him. It is possible that he may be the (Presidential) candidate or even someone else. I cannot rule out any name.
While Congress and its media managers worked hard at reintroducing the ambiguity around its candidate,Banerjee was at 10 Janpath where she held a brief 15-minute meeting with Sonia Gandhi. Interestingly,she drove straight to Mulayam Singh Yadavs residence from there.
Whatever we will decide,we will decide jointly, Banerjee told reporters after her hour-long meeting with the SP chief. Earlier in the day,she seemed to have ruled out APJ Abdul Kalams candidature,a name that BJP wants SP to propose. He (Kalam) has had his term, was her short reply.
Her day ended with a meeting with Ahmed Patel,Political Secretary to Sonia Gandhi,as the Congress sought to build unity within the UPA tent over backing its presidential nominee.