New Delhi, March 6: The presidential election in July could become Sonia Gandhis biggest worry after todays poll results, apart from the possibility that the political tide could turn decisively against the Congress.
The partys pathetic performance in Uttar Pradesh, losses in Goa and the failure to whittle down rivals strengths in Punjab and Uttarakhand would ensure a tough contest to choose the next President. The Congress cannot send a person of its choice to the Rashtrapati Bhavan and Sonia will now have to choose a compromise candidate in consultation with at least Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mamata Banerjee.
The UPA enjoys a majority in the electoral college but it cannot push its candidate if the NDA, Left and the Samajwadi Party reach a consensus on a nominee. Anti-Congress forces have started hunting for a person who will have wider acceptability than Sonias choice. Sources said such forces were talking to even some UPA allies.
The Congress and its allies have over 600,000 votes in the electoral college, which includes the Samajwadi and Mayawatis Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). The NDA has over 300,000 votes, while the Left and the Telugu Desam Party together have around 1,20,000. The NDA too cannot get its candidate elected but it can throw a challenge to the Congress by agreeing on a candidate supported by the Samjawadi and the Left.
It was Mulayam, the Samajwadi chief, who had floated the name of A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, prompting the BJP to adopt him and compelling the Congress to extend support.
Given the strained relations between Mamata and the Congress, these forces could also back a candidate identified by her and embarrass the Congress. Sonia will have to work in tandem with the allies to avoid such complications and accidents.
The choice of the next Vice-President, too, will have to be made through consensus.
The Congress leadership was earlier planning to send a family loyalist to the Rashtrapati Bhavan, someone like A.K. Antony, Motilal Vora or current Vice-President Hamid Ansari. But the field is wide open now and the possibility of a dark horse emerging cannot be ruled out.
The tentative date for the Presidents election is July 19 and the entire process, including counting of votes, should be over by July 21. That will be four days before incumbent Pratibha Patil completes her term as the countrys first woman President. Around the same time, the Election Commission will set in motion the process for election of the Vice-President.
The electoral college for the President includes the elected members of the Lok Sabha, the Rajya Sabha and the Legislative Assemblies of all states, including Delhi and the Union territory of Puducherry. The nominated members of the Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha or Assemblies are not eligible to vote in the election.