A contest between Pranab Mukherjee, likely to be the UPA candidate, and former President APJ Abdul Kalam, sponsored by the two regional parties, appears to be on the cards although BJP, the Left parties and some others are yet to make up their mind.
Shocked by the unilateral announcement of the names of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Kalam and Somnath Chatterjee as Presidential candidates by SP-TMC, the Congress decided to pick the gauntlet and proceed with having a candidate chosen by it and the other UPA allies. Mukherjee, the Union Finance Minister, appears to be the front runner for the UPA but the talk in political circles was that if the battle became too close to call in his case a new name may be considered.
Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar's name was making the rounds. The Congress leadership--Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh, Mukherjee, P Chidambaram, AK Antony and Ahmed Patel--met to chalk out the strategy, having consulted key allies DMK and NCP, who are backing any Congress candidate, earlier in the day.
Authoritative Congress sources said later that the focus was only on one candidate i.e., Mukherjee and the party was willing to confront TMC-SP, who made it clear today that they were backing Kalam. "There is no no dark horse," the sources said and indicated that the UPA allies will meet tomorrow to firm up a coalition candidate. TMC leader and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has chosen not not to attend it. There was an open spat between Congress and Mamata with the ruling party accusing her of being unethical by disclosing yesterday the names of Mukherjee and Vice President Hamid Ansari that had been conveyed to her by Gandhi.
Amid growing acrimony between the two, the mercurial Mamata said that she did not not want to topple the UPA government on her part but she would not not be intimidated. She would not not leave UPA but the ball was in the Congress court.
The day's developments began with a strong statement from the Congress party, recovering from the shock administered by TMC and SP, making it clear that there was no no question of sparing the services of the Prime Minister for the Rashtrapati Bhawan as proposed by Mamata and Mulayam Singh Yadav, SP supremo.
The Congress also rejected the names of two other candidates Kalam and former Lok Sabha Speaker Chatterjee. The party then went on to hit out at Mamata for being "unethical".
As the political temperatures kept pace with the rising mercury in the capital which touched 42.7 C, there was widespread speculation about possible fall out of the confrontation in the UPA.
Fears that the country may face a mid-term poll were being whispered and this question was put to the West Bengal chief minister.
Answering questions from hordes of reporters, Mamata said that if the ruling party candidate lost in the Presidential contest, then it was for that party to consider the issue of early Lok Sabha poll ahead of 2014.