Prez race: UPA seems to be comfortably placed

As things stand today, in an electoral college of around 11 lakh votes, the UPA is almost certain to get the support of over 6.5 lakh votes.

New Delhi: Contrary to earlier speculation, the Congress-led UPA appears to be placed in a comfortable position for getting its nominee elected to the President`s post, thanks apparently to some sharp remarks from BJP`s Sushma Swaraj rejecting a candidate from the ruling party.

A couple of months ago, political circles were agog with permutations and combinations on the President`s election suggesting a possible ganging up of non-UPA parties to stall a UPA nominee from getting into Rashtrapati Bhavan.

However, things appear to have changed suddenly with a surprise statement by Leader of the Opposition in Lok Sabha Swaraj, who ruled out a consensus on the Presidential nominee.

As things stand today, in an electoral college of around 11 lakh votes, the UPA is almost certain to get the support of over 6.5 lakh votes, which includes those belonging to non-UPA parties like Left, SP, BSP and JD-U going by their public statements in last few days.

It remains to be seen whether BJP and its allies or a third front of parties comprising non-UPA and non-NDA outfits will still force a contest in case Congress chooses Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee as its candidate.

Swaraj took political parties, including many in the BJP, by surprise when she rejected the possibility of backing either Mukherjee or Vice President Hamid Ansari for succeeding Pratibha Patil, whose term ends in July.

Swaraj reasoned out that the party was planning ahead for the 2014 election and so was not keen on playing ball with Congress. The BJP would not support Mukherjee because he is a Congressman and Ansari because he does not have the stature, she said.

This set off a chain of political reaction triggering divisions in the NDA while several other non-UPA parties also shedding their aversion to any Congress nominee.

First to express disapproval over Swaraj`s remarks was NDA constituent JD-U, which said what she stated was not its views.

The disapproval was voiced by JD-U President and NDA convenor Sharad Yadav, who said that the issue had not been discussed in the NDA. His reaction apparently came after Bihar Chief Minister and party leader Nitish Kumar conveyed his disapproval of the BJP leader`s statement.

Both had reportedly conveyed to BJP that Swaraj`s remarks on Mukherjee, a veteran politician with considerable standing and stature, and Ansari, who also has an unsullied reputation as a diplomat and scholar, were not acceptable.

Their party leader Shivanand Tiwari said as much on record that both Mukherjee and Ansari were good choices and the party would not be averse to supporting a consensus around them.

Similar views have also come out from Samajwadi Party and Left parties, who all are yet to take a formal stand but have indicated they have no objection to their candidatures.

An embarrassed BJP largely kept quite on Swaraj`s remarks but surprisingly one of its senior leaders Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi has come out to say that his party would prefer a consensus on an acceptable candidate, striking a note different from Swaraj.

Swaraj`s statement also consolidated opinion within the UPA on any candidate the Congress would choose. Important allies like DMK, NCP, RJD, RLD have come out in support of UPA candidates some of them particularly in favour of Mukherjee.

However, the second largest constituent of UPA Trinamool Congress is playing its cards close to the chest deliberately to keep the Congress guessing.

The ruling party in West Bengal has its own demands to make to the Centre like a financial package. Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee has even said that all options are open but observers believe that she may not be able to oppose either Mukherjee or Ansari for it cannot afford to stall a Bengali becoming President for the first time or a Muslim.

However, in all this, the Congress is yet to come out formally with its choice for the President`s post. Party leaders believe that Mukherjee`s utility as a troubleshooter for the government was enormous and it may not be in a position to spare him.

But some flippant remarks by one of its party spokespersons Renuka Chowdhary in this regard brought forth an assertion by another official spokesperson Rashid Alvi, who said that Mukherjee`s candidature cannot be ruled out.

Keen to ensure consensus across the political spectrum for the top constitutional post, Congress leaders are maintaining that it will be an UPA candidate and not just a Congress candidate.

With fissures in the NDA and even within the BJP over Swaraj`s remarks, the Congress is hoping that a consensus on it will even be reached with the main Opposition party in due course.


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