Congress plans to field Mukherjee for president's post.
The Congress party is seriously considering nominating federal finance minister Pranab Mukherjee for the country's top post. The idea is to get backing from Bengal and use Mukherjee's contacts with arch-rivals Trinamool Congress and the Left Front to be on the same side during presidential elections.
With May 24 being the last date to file nominations, the race has started becoming hot with several names coming under discussion by various political parties. A close contest is in the offing if attempts to find a consensus candidate fail due to the fact that no political party or group enjoys majority in the Electoral College.
The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Monday stoked the fire by saying it would not support either Mukherjee or Vice-President Hamid Ansari.
BJP leader Sushma Swaraj's statement was hotly contested by ally Janata Dal (United) with its president Sharad Yadav terming it as either her own opinion or that of the BJP.
"What Sushma Swaraj has said may be BJP's opinion. We are not involved in any discussions at the moment," Yadav said. Reports suggest that JD (U) leader Nitish Kumar, the Bihar chief minister, is upset with the BJP's outright rejection of Ansari since the JD (U)-BJP alliance got a second term in office in Bihar with full support from the Muslim community.
The BJP has already rejected a quid pro quo arrangement with the Congress party under which if a Congress nominee gets elected as the country's president, a BJP nominee becomes the vice-president. The party said it would confuse voters if they see two major parties shaking hands before 2014 parliamentary elections.
BJP however has said that it would support another Muslim, the former President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam if his candidature was proposed by the Samajwadi Party and Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress.
Although the Congress-Left Front friendship ended over the contentious Indo-US civil nuclear deal in 2008, Mukherjee continues to have very good personal equations with the Left Front leaders.
Sources in the party suggested that it may not be averse to supporting Mukherjee.
The Congress thinking is that the only way the West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee can be stopped from joining hands with parties outside the Untied Progressive Alliance is to field a Bengali for president.
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