Sonia Gandhi indicated today that the UPA was still in the process of evolving a consensus on the next president. The UPA chairperson met crucial Congress ally Mamata Banerjee,who met Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav immediately afterward.
There is no confusion. Be patient,still there is time, Sonia said,seeking to put at rest speculation that followed remarks by Congress spokesperson Renuka Chowdhury suggesting that Pranab Mukherjee might be too important for the UPA to be made president.
Chowdhury was subsequently forced by senior party leaders to retract,and Congress spokesperson Rashid Alvi clarified that Mukherjees name could not be ruled out.
Mamata appeared to send out a few signals of her own today. She drove to his residence for a discussion soon after meeting Sonia and,after an hourlong meeting with the SP chief,announced,Whatever we will decide,we will decide jointly.
Earlier in the day,Mulayam had said that the president should always be a political person a statement that was interpreted as the SP ruling out another term for former president APJ Abdul Kalam.
Mamata said today,He (Kalam) has had his term. Asked about potential candidates,she said,All options are open. She also steered clear of stating a preference between Mukherjee and Vice-President Hamid Ansari,the two frontrunners for the UPA.
He (Pranab Mukherjee) is a member of the Congress party. How can I speak
for the Congress? I know my boundaries,I never cross them, Mamata said. Earlier,amid the confusion created by Chowdhurys remark,she had said,I think their party has already announced today that he (Mukherjee) is not (the candidate)… I cannot say anything.
Sources said the message from the Trinamool was clear: The Congress should weed out multiple voices within the party and approach her and other UPA constituents with a clear choice.
Let Congress open up first, party spokesman and MP Sudip Bandopadhyay said.
Before going into her meeting with Sonia,Mamata said cryptically,We would like to see a consensus on the candidate. In a democracy you have consensus as well as contests.
In its dialogues with the Congress,the TMC has conveyed that its demand for a three-year moratorium on West Bengals loan repayments was the most important issue for the party. A meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Friday on this matter could ultimately decide which way Mamata goes on the presidential election. Sonia in fact met both the PM and the finance minister before meeting Mamata.