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Sonia meets PM, Maya
Prez battle hots up
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, June 11
The political process in the UPA for the selection of the candidate for the presidential election gathered pace today with the Congress president Sonia Gandhi going to the house of BSP chief and UP Chief Minister Mayawati over dinner to firm up her party's support for the UPA's nominee. Sonia Gandhi, who today returned from a visit abroad, took stock of the discussions held so far by senior Congress leaders with the UPA partners to build a consensus on the name of home minister Shivraj Patil, who is considered the front-runner among presidential candidates of the UPA. She met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in the evening.

Defence minister A.K.Antony and political secretary to Congress president Ahmed Patel conveyed the response from the UPA partners, including the NCP, LJP, PMK and RJD, to Sonia on Patil's candidature. Later, Antony and Patel met external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee as part of discussions regarding the presidential candidate.

The Left parties and the NCP are understood to have some reservations over the candidature of Patil.

The Prime Minister and Sonia Gandhi went to greet RJD chief Lalu Prasad on his birthday. Sonia then proceeded to meet Mayawati, who said after the meeting that she will issue a statement tomorrow. Indicating that she will back the UPA candidate, Mayawati said that the meeting, which lasted over two hours, took place in a cordial atmosphere.

The two leaders had earlier discussed the issue of presidential elections when Mayawati came to the Capital.

Before taking a decision on the candidate, the Congress leadership will talk to the leaders from the Left parties, who are meeting tomorrow at 5 p.m. to discuss the presidential election. DMK chief and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi is expected to come to the Capital tomorrow and a Left-UPA meeting could take place on Wednesday.

The notification for the presidential elections is also expected to be issued soon.

AICC sources said while Patil remains the front-runner, the name of AICC treasurer Motilal Vora has also been discussed at the highest levels in the party.

With some leaders from the newly floated front of eight parties indicating that they could support Vice-President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat if he contests as a non-BJP candidate, the Congress is keen to mobilise the maximum support for the UPA nominee. Shekhawat had received additional votes during the last elections to the post of Vice-President and parties from the UPA have expressed their desire to have a strong candidate who does not face any significant risk of cross voting.

Meanwhile, the Congress spokesman Satyavrat Chaturvedi today said that it was open to the idea of consultations with the Opposition on the presidential election.

The Prime Minister had suggested to the NDA to support the ruling alliance’s candidate for the presidential election.

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