Pranab Mukherjee leading the presidential race?

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Pranab Mukherjee
New Delhi, May 4: Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee appears to be emerging as front runner in the race for President's post within his party and outside with allies and some others backing him.

Key UPA constituent Trinamool Congress and Samajwadi Party, which held discussions today on the issue appear to be not averse to Mukerjee's candidature if the Congress decides on it and evolves a broad consensus, sources in both the parties said.

However, the chances of Vice President Hamid Ansari becoming a UPA sponsored candidate are also not being ruled out completely given the fact that the running of the government is highly dependent on Mukherjee's utility as a troubleshooter, Congress sources said.

The final decision depends on the party leadership, which has to take the call whether to spare Mukherjee for the constitutional post. A senior leader said Mukherjee also stood a chance because the government has only two more years to go.

They said that other key constituents of UPA, DMK and NCP, have promised their support to Congress and much would depend on what stand TMC, the second largest party in UPA, takes. Significantly, BJP ally JDU came out in support of both Pranab and Ansari.

Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee met Congress President Sonia Gandhi and SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav separately and discussed the issue. She later met Gandhi's political secretary Ahmed Patel.

Trinamool sources also indicated that TMC would go with the UPA if there is a consensus on candidate being fielded by it.

A senior SP leader speaking on the condition of anonymity said that Mukherjee was the most apt choice for President's post and his party would have no problem supporting him.

Party sources said that they would "personally" prefer Pranab Mukherjee but would weigh political considerations in backing a Muslim candidate in the form of Ansari. The SP appears to be waiting for a formal approach from the Congress on the issue.

The BJP's call for a contest and its opposition to Mukherjee and Ansari found no takers with the Left parties making it clear that they would not mind backing any of these candidates and that they were keen on a consensus.

Congress President Sonia Gandhi held discussions on the issue with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in Parliament House this morning in which Mukherjee also joined.

Asked about "confusion" over names of Presidential candidates, Gandhi told reporters, "there is no confusion. Be patient, still there is time." Party sources said a formal announcement of the name is likely only by this month end.

This comes after some drama when Congress spokesperson Renuka Chowdhury appeared to suggest that Mukherjee was too "valued" to the party and the government to be spared for the President's post.

However, the Congress clarified that no name has been finalised and Mukherjee is not ruled out of the race though he is important for the party, government and the country.

SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, whom Banerjee met, broke his silence saying the Presidential candidate should be "political".

After an hour-long meeting at Yadav's residence yesterday, she told reporters that they would meet again and take a joint decision after further consultations. "Whatever we will decide, we will decide jointly," she said.

PTI

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