NEW DELHI: Hamstrung by the vote position in the electoral college, the Congress has realised it can’t have a candidate of its choice in the July presidential election. Even Antony, who might have been Sonia’s first choice—had the party been in a stronger position—is out of reckoning. The ruling UPA has eight per cent votes less than the halfway mark. And none of the above have the cross-party acceptability needed to win. The Congress is trying a cascade strategy: first talking to its allies, then to supporting parties and then with other political groups for a larger consensus this time. The division of labour runs thus: Sonia to engage Sharad Pawar and Mamata; Manmohan handling Mulayam and Maya, and it’s AK Antony’s job to get Karunanidhi on board.
PRANAB’s LAST BID: Who’ll be the beneficiary of these moves on the chessboard of New Delhi politics? Sources say Pranab met Sonia last week on this. She’s said to have told Mukherjee it would be difficult for her to spare him for a ceremonial role, as there’s no replacement in the government or party. She said she’d broach the subject with the PM. However, the same sources say, a PM-Sonia chat on Mukherjee’s nomination is yet to happen. A Gandhi family acolyte claims an unexpected candidate—like Jamia VC Najeeb Jung—may emerge as a Congress wildcard; “He has friends in right places, and the right credentials.’’ Keeping 2014 in mind, Congress High Command may want someone beholden to it. But like Gopal Gandhi, Jung may have the credentials, but not enough backers.
ANSARI SWEATS IT OUT: Mulayam is known to be averse to Ansari’s candidature, since the VP didn’t support SP’s stand on the Lokpal Bill. Congress sources say NCP has no problem with Mukherjee. A senior NCP leader said in Parliament, “Pranabda is being backed by everyone except Congress.’’ In fact, BJP may take a critical view on Ansari, but not on Mukherjee. A top BJP leader, whose voice carries weight within the party, said, “We may decide in favour of a consensus if the choice is Dada.’’ However, the Congress is in no position to decide on the next PM candidate. Among two other key regional players—BJD and AIADMK—Ansari is wooing Naveen Patnaik. The duo met in Odisha last month.
THE BJP GAMEPLAN: The BJP appear to be in a “wait-and-watch mode”, although a section of the party is keen on Kalam. Its present strategy is to reach out to as many non-Congress players as possible, from AIADMK to Biju Janata Dal, Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool to SP and the Left. The idea, as a senior BJP leader explained, was to have a name acceptable to most non-Congress players. BJP hopes to play the role of a “consensus-builder among such players”. Gadkari says he’ll certainly consider any candidate of Naveen or Mulayam, and admits to having an ace up his sleeve. “We have 31 per cent of votes, they (UPA) have 36, leaving 33 per cent outside our two blocs.”
The NCTC meeting on May 5, when key state players will be in Delhi, would be the ideal venue for a coup against the Congress’s presidential plans.