M A I N   N E W S

Presidential poll on July 19
Mamata keeps up suspense, meets Mulayam before Sonia
Anita Katyal
Our Political Correspondent

Eyes bailout package

Mamata, who has kept the Congress guessing on her presidential preference, has been pressing the Centre for a special bailout package for the debt-ridden West Bengal.

A quid pro quo?

The Congress has continued to keep up the suspense. Aware that the numbers are not stacked in favour of the Congress, Sonia has moved extremely cautiously in her dealings with the allies. It could also require the Congress to agree to a quid pro quo - the Congress gets the President’s post while the allies get their choice of vice-president.

New Delhi, June 12
The consultations for next month’s Presidential elections entered a decisive phase today with the late evening arrival of key UPA ally Mamata Banerjee, Trinamool Congress chief and West Bengal Chief Minister.

She is slated to meet Congress president Sonia Gandhi tomorrow to finalise the ruling coalition’s candidate for the top constitutional post.

On her arrival in Delhi, Mamata Banerjee drove straight to Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav’s residence to chalk out a joint strategy for the Presidential election in an effort to pressurise the Congress.

The two leaders, whose parties command a substantial vote share in the electoral college, can together change the complexion of this election as the Congress does not have the numbers to get its candidate elected without their support.

Although the choice is fast narrowing down to Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, contradictory signals are emanating from the Trinamool camp. While party sources said the Trinamool chief would like the Congress to first formally propose Mukherjee’s candidature before committing her party’s support, a Kolkata-based news channel, known for its proximity to Mamata Banerjee, said she could suggest former Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee’s name for the top post.

The ball is now firmly in the Congress court as Sonia Gandhi will have to spell out her party’s choice to Mamata Banerjee when they meet tomorrow.

The Congress president has, so far, refrained from proposing any names as her first round of meetings with allies concentrated on seeking their support for her party candidate.

So far, most UPA partners, including DMK chief M Karunanidhi, NCP’s Sharad Pawar and RLD president Ajit Singh, have indicated their preference for Pranab Mukherjee.

Speculation about Mukherjee’s candidacy gained further ground today after he cancelled his June 14 visit to Kabul although the official reason being given is that the Finance Minister did not want to leave the country at a time when the economy is faring badly.

However, Mamata Banerjee has kept the Congress guessing on her Presidential preference. She has been pressing the Centre for a special bail-out package for the debt-ridden West Bengal, suggesting that her support for a Congress candidate will depend on the Centre’s response to this demand.

West Bengal Finance Minister Amit Mitra had met Mukherjee in this connection yesterday as the Centre has been working overtime to finalise a financial package which will meet with Mamata’s expectations.

Now that the schedule for the President’s election has been announced and a formal notification is expected this weekend, the consultations have moved into top gear.

But the Congress continued to keep up the suspense, saying efforts were still on to forge the widest possible consensus. Aware that the numbers are not stacked in favour of the Congress, Sonia Gandhi has moved extremely cautiously in her dealings with the allies on the Presidential election.





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