New Delhi, (IANS) It is official. UPA nominee Pranab Mukherjee will face former Lok Sabha speaker P.A. Sangma in the July 19 presidential election. The BJP Thursday decided to support Sangma but the finance minister appears to be ahead in the race to Raisna Hill with the Left and some sections of the NDA partners favouring him.
On a day of fast-paced developments, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) announced it would back Sangma, but within minutes, its key partner Janata Dal-United (JD-U) said it favoured Mukherjee for the top post.
“We all decided P.A. Sangma is the most suitable candidate. So BJP supports P.A. Sangma as its presidential candidate,” Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj said.
The announcement came after a week of hectic parleys that yielded little result as the BJP found itself cornered by the JD-U and anotehr Shiv Sena, both of whom were all for Mukherjee.
Appealing to its allies to support Sangma, who quit the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) Wednesday to get the support of the BJP, Swaraj admitted lack of consensus in its ranks.
“We had two candidates, (former president) A.P.J. Abdul Kalam and Sangma. As Kalamji decided not to contest, so the second one was Sangma,” she said.
“We held several formal and informal meetings, but a consensus could not be achieved. Two of our constituent parties are still not in favour of it, but we have decided we need to back a candidate,” she said.
Minutes after Swaraj’s announcement, JD-U chief Sharad Yadav told reporters here his party was sticking to its stand.
“According to the present situation, our support is to Pranab Mukherjee, but we are not supporting the Congress,” he said.
The BJP and the JD-U have a strained relationship not only over the presidential poll, but also on the NDA’s prime ministerial candidate in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
The BJP decision brought cheer for Sangma, who was one of the founders of NCP and is a Garo tribal from Meghalaya.
Sangma had the backing of Chief Ministers J. Jayalalithaa of Tamil Nadu and Naveen Patnaik of Odisha for his presidential aspirations.
Apart from appealing to the NDA allies to support him, Sangma also asked Trinamool Congress and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who opposes Mukherjee, to back him. Banerjee is yet to make up her mind.
In the same breath, Sangma also clarified that he was “not a candidate of a single party, but of the national tribal front” – an attempt to woo smaller parties to his cause.
Asked about the fate of his daughter Agatha Sangma, a minister of state in the Congress-led UPA government, he said: “My daughter is a part of the UPA…She is the minister and a very mature person. She has the capacity of taking a decision on her own. I do not have to tell her.”
But the NCP was not happy with the development.
Describing Sangma, as a candidate of the communal forces, NCP general secretary D.P. Tripathi said : “It is unfortunate that Sangma has become a candidate of the communal forces… the UPA nominee would have a decisive triumph in the presidential poll.”
Observing that the BJP backed Sangma “so there is a contest just for the sake of contest”, Tripathi said the decision showed the “bankruptcy” of a party “which had to import its presidential candidate from the UPA”.
But it was not only the NDA that had divisions within its ranks on the presidential issue. The four parties in the Left grouping also shared different views.
As expected, the Communist Party of India-Marxist and the Forward Block supported Mukherjee, while the Communist Party of India and the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) decided to abstain from voting – a move which will only help Mukherjee.
The numbers in the electoral college clearly favour Mukherjee.
As of today, Mukherjee is ahead with 56.17 percent of votes with Shiv Sena, JD-U and two Left parties supporting him. Sangma is at 31.7 percent minus the Trinamool Congress.
The counting will be on July 22 and the new incumbent will be sworn in July 24, when President Pratibha Patil’s term expires.