June 13, 2012 3:21:56 am
The process to elect the next president formally kicked off today with the Election Commission announcing July 19 as the date of polling for the successor to President Pratibha Patil in Rashtrapati Bhawan. In town to meet UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi tomorrow on the choice of president,Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee made her first political move this evening by trying to present a united front with Samajwadi Party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav.
Driving straight to Mulayams house from the airport,she sought to send a clear signal to Sonia Gandhi that the Congress must not take its allies for granted. This comes at a time when the Congress has been testing the waters with SP to try and keep a perpetually hostile TMC in check.
Sources said that Mulayam did not offer any assurances to Mamata in the meeting. However,political circles viewed the 25-minute meeting she had with the SP chief an unplanned one at that as an attempt to shape the script that the Congress leadership was meticulously trying to write on the presidential polls. Even more significantly,she told reporters after the meeting that she would meet Mulayam again tomorrow after she had held discussions with Sonia Gandhi.
This kind of discussions take place before such decisions. I have a meeting scheduled with Sonia Gandhi tomorrow. After the meeting,I will meet Mulayamji again, she said. The collaboration,at another level,also appeared an attempt to forestall moves by the Congress to divide the Trinamool and the SP,arguably the two most important parties after the BJP and controlling over 1 lakh votes,in the Presidential stakes.
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Earlier in the day,the Congress was assured support by the NCP which distanced itself from its senior leader PA Sangma who has already thrown his hat into the ring backed by BJD and AIADMK. Sources indicated that the UPA is likely to meet on the issue in the next few days.
In fact,the NCP even seemed to implicitly support Mukherjees candidature with its contention that the next President will be a seniormost person who is acceptable to all. Indias President will be acceptable to all. He will be a seniormost person,who will be congratulated by the entire country, said NCP General Secretary D P Tripathi.
This frenetic political activity came as the EC announced the polling schedule. While a formal notification will be issued on June 16,the last date for filing of nomination will be June 30 and for withdrawal of nomination,July 4. Counting of votes will be on July 22.
This means that the UPA leadership has about a week of elbow room at the end of the month if it is not able to announce the name of its nominee in the next four days. An impression that it could do so gained yesterday when,as reported by The Indian Express,Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee suddenly called off a visit to Kabul on June 14 to attend a regional conference.
Since Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will travel out of the country from June 16 to 23,UPA managers suggested that the decision could come sooner than later. Should the UPA hold its cards for some more time since it will also have to talk to the Opposition and try for consensus on a single candidate the process could well extend to the last week of June.
Before leaving for New Delhi,Mamata refused to comment when asked if she was agreeable to Pranab Mukherjees candidature should the Congress propose it. That is a Congress matter. Let me see what she (Sonia Gandhi) says, she said.
The Opposition NDA,on its part,is yet to meet to devise a strategy though action was noted at their end too after senior BJP leader Jaswant Singh met Mulayam this morning. The meeting triggered speculation that Singh was lobbying for the post of vice-president though BJP leaders maintained that the NDA had not taken any view on the issue yet.
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