The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Maya mercy, Left pinprick

New Delhi, June 12: The Congress wrapped up the day with Mayavati’s presidential votes in its pocket but the Left sent the party to bed with a niggling worry.

The Left parties are not too enthused about the likely candidature of Shivraj Patil as the UPA’s presidential nominee.

CPM general secretary Prakash Karat was hoping to take a decision after consulting M. Karunanidhi tomorrow in Delhi. But “a swelling in the foot” has forced the Tamil Nadu chief minister to postpone his visit to the capital.

Congress sources said they are not unduly worried by the Left’s hesitation. Sonia Gandhi’s aides said they were “reasonably confident” that the Left would “see reason” and eventually accept Patil.

At the informal level, the Congress has again offered the office of the Vice-President to the Left, hinting that Bengal Speaker Hashim Abdul Halim or Somnath Chatterjee would be acceptable to the party.

Halim is expected to balance Patil’s “not-so-secular” credentials that figure prominently among the Left’s criteria given last month.

As a strategic ploy, the Left has decided to throw in its lot with the DMK chief. At a meeting of Left party leaders today, several leaders, including Karat, expressed reservations on Patil.

Forward Bloc and RSP leaders sounded aggrieved that they were not consulted on the possible candidature of the home minister.

Left leaders clarified that they had not floated the name of external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee. “His name was on the list of three to four names that were given to us,” a CPM leader said.

The Forward Bloc’s Debabrata Biswas claimed that the Left still preferred Mukherjee. But Karat played down Biswas’s remark, saying no individuals were discussed.

Karat said there was no change in the Left parties’ criteria that an ideal candidate should be a political personality with secular credentials well-versed with the Constitution and procedures.

Sensing a hurdle of sorts, Congress leaders and cabinet ministers stopped congratulating Patil. Early this evening, several bouquets had made it to Patil’s 4 Janpath residence. By late evening, the trickle dried up as Patil’s well-wishers felt it was perhaps too early to congratulate him.

Last night, Mayavati told Sonia over dinner that she would support the UPA presidential nominee.

A BSP source said Patil was not Mayavati’s favourite but the Uttar Pradesh chief minister said she would go with Sonia’s choice. Mayavati did not name anyone in public, but said an agreement was reached on one of “two to three names” discussed.

Sonia will be hoping that Karunanidhi and Karat — when they meet or speak to each other — will agree on the same name.

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