M A I N   N E W S

Cong, TMC head for a showdown
PRESIDENTIAL RACE: Confrontation brews over names; Pranab-Kalam contest likely
Anita Katyal
Our Political Correspondent

New Delhi, June 14
Even as its most troublesome ally Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee insisted that APJ Abdul Kalam was her first choice in the presidential race, a combative Congress hit out at her for crossing the line by naming Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for the President’s post. The party fast-tracked its consultations with other parties and appeared set to name Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee as its nominee for the top constitutional post.

A crucial meeting of the UPA will be held tomorrow to forge a consensus on the ruling coalition’s presidential candidate as the Congress is keen to make an official announcement before the Prime Minister’s departure for Mexico and Brazil on Saturday.

The party was unfazed even after Mamata said she would not attend the meeting and reiterated her support for Kalam, even if it involved a contest.

The Congress was particularly encouraged to call Mamata’s bluff after Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav maintained silence on the issue today although the two regional leaders had stumped everybody yesterday when they publicly proposed three names for the President’s post - Kalam, Manmohan Singh and former Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee.

Mulayam is apparently upset with Mamata for unilaterally declaring Kalam as their preferred choice as he believes the former President may not be ready for a contest which would make them look foolish.

That the SP was wavering on its earlier stand was evident from its senior leader Ram Gopal Yadav’s statement that their party was open to a dialogue on the presidential candidate. Significantly, Mulayam did not make a joint appearance with the Trinamool chief after she called on him this evening.

After being stunned into silence by Mamata and Mulayam’s statement yesterday, the Congress went into a damage-control mode. 

The party’s crisis managers, who held several rounds of discussions to chalk out their response, appeared to have decided on a three-pronged strategy.

The party took a conscious decision to take on Mamata Banerjee, isolate her from Mulayam Singh Yadav and widen its consultations with other political players, including the Left. In fact, Pranab Mukherjee called up CPM leaders Buddhadeb Bhattacharya and Biman Bose for their support for his candidature.

Sonia Gandhi had a series of meeting with senior party colleagues and allies, including DMK’s TR Baalu and NCP chief Sharad Pawar, who assured her of their support for the Congress candidate. The day ended with a meeting of the Congress core group where the general mood was to back Pranab Mukherjee’s candidature.

At the same time, the Congress slammed Mamata Banerjee for disclosing details of her conversation with Sonia Gandhi where she was told that Pranab Mukherjee and Vice-President Hamid Ansari had emerged as the UPA’s choices.

Hitting out at the Trinamool chief, Congress media department chief Janardan Dwivedi rejected the three names proposed by Mamata and Mulayam yesterday. Rallying behind the PM, he said, “We cannot afford to spare Dr Manmohan Singh as the Prime Minister. 






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