New Delhi, Manmohan Singh will continue as prime minister till 2014, a cornered Congress broke its silence to declare Thursday, amid indications it would reach out to smaller parties and others like the RJD in a bid to neutralise the newly-formed axis of Trinamool Congress and the Samajwadi Party (SP) in the presidential elections.
Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee, a key member of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), and SP’s Mulayam Singh Yadav, who props the government, Wednesday snubbed the Congress by rejecting its candidates – Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Vice President Hamid Ansari. It’s shock list instead had Manmohan Singh, former president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam and former speaker Somnath Chatterjee.
On Thursday, a miffed Congress said it could not afford to spare Manmohan Singh and also rejected Kalam and Chatterjee for the July 19 presidential poll.
“UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi is talking to its allies and supporters, including smaller parties to build consensus on the issue,” Congress media department chief Janardan Dwivedi told reporters.
“When the Congress decides, it will be one name,” he said.
Congress insiders said the party’s ‘reach out policy’ for the crucial presidential election, in which the Trinamool and SP have decisive numbers, would include small parties like the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), others which have only one or two members in the house and possibly even sections of the Left.
Party sources said this indicated a new approach by the Congress to widen the support base for the presidential poll, something it had not cared to do all these days.
Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief Lalu Prasad and Lok Janshakti Party leader Ram Vilas Paswan are already on board, claimed the sources.
According to Dwivedi, the names of Mukherjee and Ansari as candidates for the high office emerged during the first round of discussion with the allies. More talks will follow, said party leaders.
The Congress core committee will meet in the evening and may finally stick with the choice of Mukherjee, said some leaders.
Party leaders said on condition of anonymity that Gandhi would take stock of the coming together of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and Muluyam Singh in attempt to create a pressure group within the Congress-led UPA and its larger implications. The Trinamool-SP axis had somewhat taken the Congress by surprise.
The Congress had run into problems as it had been cultivating SP as a possible buffer against the mercurial Banerjee, who has blocked key economic reforms and a proposed anti-terror hub thus compounding the perception of what is being widely termed a policy paralysis in the government.
“There could be some back channel talks with the SP,” said the sources, adding that the Congress knew that the Yadav leader cannot tango with Banerjee for long as he needs the central government’s support to develop Uttar Pradesh being ruled by his son and chief minister Akhilesh Yadav.