On a day of high drama, India's presidential sweepstakes were
thrown wide open Wednesday evening after two key allies of the
ruling UPA, Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mamata Banerjee, sprang a
surprise by suggesting three new names, including that of Prime
Minister Manmohan Singh, while virtually rejecting the two
Congress candidates, Pranab Mukherjee and Hamid Ansari.
Banerjee announced after a meeting with Congress president Sonia
Gandhi that the ruling party's first choice for president was
Finance Minister Mukherjee and the second was Ansari, the current
vice president. Barely an hour later, Mulayam Singh Yadav and
Mamata Banerjee, in a joint press conference, said their preferred
choices were former president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, Manmohan Singh
and former Lok Sabha speaker Somnath Chatterjee.
"We discussed three names ... A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, Manmohan Singh
and Somanth Chatterjee," Mulayam Singh told reporters, bringing
the prime minister's name in the reckoning for the first time.
"We decided the names based on the persons who are honest, know
the constitution and can work for the nation. It will be good to
have a president elected unanimously by all political parties,"
Both leaders denied the names were in any order of priority and
said it was for the political parties to support one of them.
The fact that Banerjee, who spent the day confabulating with key
political leaders, announced one set of names and then another in
a space of just a short time set tongues wagging.
With five names in the running where there was only one --
Nationalist Congress Party's (NCP) P.A. Sangma -- the political
world was thrown into a whirl.
With two key allies virtually saying that he should leave 7, Race
Course Road for Rashtrapati Bhavan, was this the end of Manmohan
Singh's prime ministership? Where would it leave Mukherjee, the
quintessential second-in-command and the government's most valued
Most political observers were of the view that Chatterjee and
Kalam were red herrings and the Congress may not have been all
that serious about Ansari - who did not get the support of the SP,
which had said it wanted a political nominee, preferably a Muslim.
The SP and the Trinamool with their decisive numbers are critical
to the UPA pushing ahead with its choice for president. The other
allies, NCP and DMK, had earlier said they would go with whoever
the Congress chooses. But with no one name, it was confusion
With the government under unprecedented attack, its very
leadership being questioned because of a perceived policy
paralysis and a floundering economy, how this roulette will play
out in the next days will have a bearing on the future of the UPA,
its government and the way it prepares itself for the next general
election scheduled for 2014.
There were many questions doing the rounds. Was this a
well-scripted drama or did the allies pull the rug from under the
The Congress retreated into a shell and no comments were
forthcoming from their spokespersons. The Prime Minister's Office
also said "no comment" to journalist questions about the prime
"The SP and Trinamool are UPA allies... there is nothing wrong in
a political party suggesting names. No decision has been taken.
These names can be discussed and a consensus arrived through
dialogue," said a senior Congress leader on condition of
The opposition NDA said they would wait and watch for the official
position to emerge before making known their choices.
Both alliances have till June 30 to file nominations. Elections,
if required, would be held July 19.