M A I N   N E W S

Presidential Poll
Assured of DMK, NCP backing, Cong set to woo Mamata
West Bengal CM in Delhi, likely to meet Sonia today
Anita Katyal/TNS

New Delhi, May 2
After its successful deliberations on the Presidential elections with UPA allies, the DMK and the NCP, the Congress is now all set to consult its most difficult and unpredictable partner, Trinamool Congress chief and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who landed in Delhi this evening.

The Congress also got some positive signals from the Samajwadi Party, which lends outside support to the UPA government, whose leaders Mulayum Singh Yadav and Ram Gopal Yadav today said they would not support a BJP candidate and were not averse to a political nominee occupying the top post. This was being read as their endorsement of a Congress candidate.

Mamata, who is here to attend the May 5 conference of chief ministers on NCTC, is likely to meet Congress president Sonia Gandhi tomorrow which will be followed the next day with a meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. While her deliberations with Sonia Gandhi will focus on the upcoming Presidential election, her talks with the PM will deal with her demand for a three-year moratorium on the huge debt burden on West Bengal.

The two issues are, however, inextricably linked. Well aware that the four per cent vote which her party holds in the electoral college is crucial for the election of a Congress-backed Presidential candidate, Mamata is expected to press her demand for a moratorium in exchange for support for a UPA nominee.

Like other regional players, whose votes can tilt the balance in the Presidential race, the TMC is playing its cards close to its chest. Although there are reports that Mamata favours former West Bengal Governor Gopal Gandhi’s candidature, she has instructed her party members not to discuss the names of any candidates. “Only Mamata didi knows who she wants as the next President,” remarked Trinamool Congress leader Sudeep Bandopadhyay.

While Mamata is expected to drive a hard bargain with the Congress on its Presidential choice, the West Bengal Chief Minister is unlikely to break ranks with the UPA on this issue as it would force the Congress to seek the support of the Left parties. If the Centre lives up to a recent assurance given by the PM that the Centre would consider her demands sympathetically, Mamata could even back Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee candidature. While Mamata is in no hurry to disclose her preferences for the Presidential race, the SP, whose support is equally crucial in this election, is also keeping everybody guessing. SP chief Mulayum Singh Yadav told media persons here today that his party is yet to hold an internal discussion on this issue. The names mentioned by SP leaders Shahid Siddiqui and Kamal Farooqui over the pst two days had not been cleared by the party, he added.

He also indicated that his party is unlikely to go along with the BJP leader Sushma Swaraj’s proposal to back former President A.P.J.Abdul Kalam’s candidature if the SP proposed his name. Mulayum Singh Yadav revealed that though he has been credited for having suggested Kalam’s name during the NDA regime, it had not been a serious proposal but subsequently got wide acceptance.

His brother, Rajya Sabha MP Ram Gopal Yadav ruled out any support for a BJP-sponsored candidature or the possibility of regional parties putting up a candidate.





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