Congress stands up, sort of
Express news service : New Delhi, Thu Jun 14 2012, 21:38 hrs
CRACKS in the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) widened today putting a question mark on the durability of the government at the Centre as the Congress snubbed its allies Samajwadi Party and the Trinamool Congress, rejecting their three-member panel of Presidential candidates and maintaining that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, whose name they had floated, will remain Prime Minister till 2014.
“We cannot afford to spare Dr Manmohan Singh as Prime Minister. The other two names (APJ Abdul Kalam and Somnath Chatterjee) are not acceptable. During UPA II, we have already said he (Singh) will remain the Prime Minister till 2014. The Congress does not take such a step (changing the leader) in-between,” Congress general secretary Janardan Dwivedi declared after a meeting with Congress President Sonia Gandhi who held consultations with senior party leaders and allies through the day. She headed for the Prime Minister’s residence in the evening to deliberate over the issue at the Congress Core Group meeting.
The crucial issue that the Congress top brass was learnt to be seized with is the timing of the declaration of the UPA candidate: before or after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s June 16-24 visit to Mexico and Brazil.
One section of the Congress, which includes Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, the leading candidate, feels that the party should not delay the announcement given yesterday’s events. By this logic, the announcement could come soon after the notification on July 16. But the PM is slated to depart for Mexico the same morning and if the choice of the UPA candidate were to precipitate a crisis like a Trinamool rebellion — or walkout — then it would play out when the PM is out of the country. That’s a prospect that would add to the UPA’s instability, some feel.
The other view is to wait out this period until the PM returns on July 24. This would allow the Congress to assess the winnability of its candidate, have a better sense of the NDA’s ganeplan and, at the same time, continue talks with TMC and the SP. A final call will be taken after the UPA meeting tomorrow.
The Congress is also learnt to be holding parleys with the SP in a bid to secure its support. It’s weighing its options given its assessment that Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mamata Banerjee might be keen to precipitate a crisis and force mid-term polls so as to encash the momentum that their respective parties gained in the Assembly elections in their respective states.
Congress sources said that the prevailing stalemate could bring Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar back in contention for the President’s post. “Mamata Banerjee had earlier proposed Meira Kumar’s name and it could still be considered. But if the idea behind their (SP’s and TMC’s) brinkmanship is to force political realignment and mid-term polls, we would rather stick to our original proposal and brace it out in a contest,” a senior Congress leader told The Indian Express.
Senior SP leader Ram Gopal Yadav took a dig at the Congress today saying, “Congress did not want to make Pranab Mukherjee the President. Congress’s acerbic reaction to our suggestion is against democratic norms. There are more than five people in this country who are suitable for the President’s post.”
The UPA is likely to meet tomorrow to finalise its Presidential candidate but whether the name will be announced tomorrow would be incumbent on the Congress’ assessment of its fallout. The TMC has decided not to attend the UPA meeting. Given that Mulayam has a case of alleged disproportionate assets pending against him, there was hope in the Congress camp that the SP leader might decide to bide for more time before facing the electorate once again.
Meanwhile, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, whose candidature was vetoed by the TMC and the SP, today reached out to the Left calling up former West Bengal CM Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee to deliberate over the current stalemate over the Presidential candidate.
Earlier, the Congress reacted sharply to Banerjee’s decision to disclose the names of Mukherjee and Hamid Ansari that were proposed by the Congress President. “If the Congress had decided on the names, two names would not have come up. There is dignity to the process. When such talks are held, names are not discussed outside,” said Janardan Dwivedi. Information & Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni said that it did not make any “political or ethical sense” to disclose the names.
“Never in our history was a sitting Prime Minister’s name bandied around like this. It is lack of courtesy (to the institution of PM),” she said. TMC MP Kunal Ghosh, however, countered it saying that Banerjee had “taken permission” from Sonia before disclosing the names.
Earlier in the day, Sonia had held separate meetings with senior leaders including Mukherjee, P Chidambaram, AK Antony, Ambika Soni, ML Fotedar, and RK Dhawan. She met Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar in the afternoon. Emerging from the meeting, Pawar said that he would support the UPA candidate. Sonia had also met DMK leader TR Baalu who re-iterated his party’s support for Mukherjee’s candidature. On Thursday evening, Banerjee declared that Kalam was the “No 1 candidate” and the SP and the TMC would “contest” if there is no consensus on his name.