|Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi in New Delhi|
Ending weeks of speculation, the Congress on Friday named Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee as the UPA’s official candidate for the president’s post. Congress sources said that by zeroing in on Mukherjee’s name, the party had given an ultimate snub to West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
The Trinamool Congress chief had tried her level best to stall Mukherjee’s elevation to Rashtrapati Bhavan. In a flattering tribute to Mukherjee’s leadership, Gandhi explained why she chose him.
She said, “There is broad support for his candidature.” That explained how the 77-year-old Congress veteran simply edged out the other UPA contender, Vice-President Hamid Ansari from the presidential race.
Sources said that it is quite possible that Banerjee may have helped Mukherjee by intensely opposing him in public.
Soon after the announcement, the main concern of the Government was to ensure a consensus and not a contest for the President’s office. With theTMC threatening to field former President APJ Abdul Kalam, the Congress leadership worked over time to wean away Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav from Banerjee.
Sources conceded that if Kalam were to enter the fray, things would be tough for the Congress. But with the Yadav backing Mukherjee, the TMC chief might now find herself standing alone. Even Bahujan Samaj Party supremo Mayawati said that Mukherjee is the most able candidate for the top job.
Sources said that Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik and Tamil Nadu CM J Jayalaithaa, who were keen on seeing dalit leader P A Sangama in Rashtrapati Bhavan, could now be left out of the Pranabda mania.
The Congress high command urged all political parties to support their presidential candidate. “The UPA appeals to all the political parties, MPs and MLAs to support the candidature of Mukherjee for the office of President,” Gandhi said in a statement.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh also followed it up by calling senior BJP leaders Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley.
Minister of State in the PM OV Narayan swamy said that the UPA would reach out to the NDA and seek their help. However, the most interesting appeal was the one made by the FM to Banerjee.“Mamata is like a sister,and I seek her support,” Mukherjee said.
Copyright 2008 Bennett Coleman & Co. Ltd. . All rights reserved.