NEW DELHI: As a step towards building a consensus on the presidential candidate, Defence Minister A K Antony will soon visit Chennai to meet DMK supremo M Karunanidhi.
When a senior Congress leader disclosed this to the media in Parliament, the capital went agog with speculations as to why Antony was chosen as an interlocutor and not the Congress trouble-shooter, Pranab Mukherjee.
Though Vice-President Hamid Ansari is, currently, being seen as the front-runner in the race for the Rashtrapati Bhavan, Mukherjee’s candidature has not been entirely ruled out. So, while everyone agreed a clear thought was behind the choice, there was a division of opinion on why Antony was the chosen one for the dialogue with ally DMK.
One section of the ruling dispensation was convinced that this means Mukherjee still has a chance of making it and he could not have been sent to garner support for himself. But, another lobby within the Congress read this as the first hint from Sonia Gandhi that Antony could be the dark horse in the race.
Whatever be the case, it will not been shrouded in suspense for much longer. The incumbent President, Pratibha Patil, will retire on July 25. The Election Commission is expected to announce the dates of the presidential poll soon.
The Congress chief has already held meetings with another ally, NCP supremo and Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar. She is also expected to hold a discussion with the TMC boss and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, even though the grand old party is keeping its finger crossed on its eastern ally. According to sources, no name was discussed during the Sonia-Pawar meeting. The Maratha strongman is said to have advised the Congress chief that a consensus candidate was the need of the hour as the ruling coalition does not have a clear majority.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is also expected to chip in to find a common candidate. He is expected to open dialogue with SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav with whom he is said to have a comfortable equation.
There are unconfirmed reports of Mulayam himself wanting to join the race, if not for the President then certainly for the Vice-President post. The PM will also open talks with BSP chief Mayawati, whose support will also crucial for the UPA’s presidential candidate.