Pranab Mukherjee,the UPA choice for President,today looked set for a comfortable win but there were deep divisions within the NDA and Left front over the issue of supporting his candidature.
The BJP announced support for former Speaker P A Sangma but its NDA partner JD(U) decided to back Mukherjee,becoming the second ally after Shiv Sena not to go with the BJP choice.
The BJP and JD(U) held separate press conferences within an hour of each other to announce support for rival candidates for the July 19 poll in which Mukherjee has a clear edge with at least 6.29 lakh assured votes out of nearly 11 lakh votes,well beyond the required number of 5,49,442.
Sangma,with support from NDA,is expected to get 3.10 lakh votes but the possibility of some cross-voting is not being ruled out as the exercise will be conducted through secret ballot.
BJP leaders Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley said the party decided to support Sangma,whose candidature has been proposed by AIADMK and BJD,after trying unsuccessfully to evolve a consensus within the NDA on it. Conceding that the JD(U) and Shiv Sena had not agreed on supporting Sangma and instead backed Mukherjee,they maintained it will have no impact on the mature coalition of the NDA.
Swaraj and Jaitley argued that it was BJPs duty,being the main Opposition,not to allow a walkover to UPA which did not consult it before announcing its candidate.
Soon after,JD(U) chief Sharad Yadav announced support for Mukherjee and said his party was against any contest after former President A P J Abdul Kalam refused to enter the fray.
We regret we could not persuade our allies… We hope they will review their position, Jaitley said. He sought to justify BJPs decision to have a contest despite some major allies being against it,arguing his party could not support a government which is using various manoeuvres,including investigative agencies,for keeping one political class to stay in power.
The poll to elect the countrys 13th President also divided Left parties. The CPM and Forward Bloc decided to support Mukherjee while the CPI and RSP opted to abstain from voting.
The four parties could not arrive at a consensus at an hour-long meeting here this evening attended by their leaders.