New Delhi, June 13: Mamata Banerjee and Mulayam Singh Yadav today plunged the political landscape into turmoil as they indirectly expressed lack of confidence in the prime ministership of Manmohan Singh by proposing his name for President.
The Congress did not comment two hours into the joint announcement by Mamata and Mulayam that their choices for presidential candidates were Manmohan Singh, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam and Somnath Chatterjee.
Never before has sitting Prime Minister’s name been proposed for President, that too by an ally of the principal ruling party. The long silence of the Congress fuelled speculation if the stunning developments were unfolding as part of a greater plan by the UPA for a leadership change in the government. The UPA government has been behaving as a lameduck one for the past two years because of corruption charges and a perceived policy paralysis.
Less than half an hour before Mamata and Mulayam listed their choices, the Bengal chief minister had disclosed outside 10 Janpath that Sonia Gandhi had formally informed her that the Congress’s first choice for Rashtrapati Bhavan was Union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee.
Mamata said that when she pressed for a second Congress choice, Sonia mentioned Vice-President Hamid Ansari’s name.
The suggestion that Sonia mentioned two names, not Mukherjee’s alone, was interpreted as an indication that the Congress is not serious about the finance minister’s name.
The dramatic turn of events has left the presidential race wide open. The Congress needs the support of both the Trinamul and the Samajwadi Party to ensure that its candidate wins.
Other allies such as the DMK, the NCP, the RLD and the National Conference had already indicated their support for Mukherjee.
Earlier, after her 30-minute talks with Sonia, Mamata said: “We had detailed discussions.... Soniaji told me that she had held meetings with two-four allies and her first choice (for presidentship) is Pranab Mukherjee and second choice is Hamid Ansari.”
The Bengal chief minister said she had told Sonia that “at the moment, I cannot say anything. We need to discuss with Mulayam Singh and my own party. Then only we can say something.”
Mamata, whose party is a crucial constituent of the UPA, later met Mulayam Singh for the second time since last evening.
Before meeting the Congress chief, Mamata insisted that her demand for a three-year moratorium on payment of interest on central loans was not linked to her party’s support to the UPA nominee in the presidential polls.
“No, no, no. Support (to the UPA in presidential polls) is not linked to financial package to the state. Both are two different things,” she told reporters.
“Whenever I come to Delhi, these kind of rumours and gossips are planted by some quarters. These are plantations. Plantations not of trees but plantation of rumours,” she said. “I condemn this circulation of rumours,” the Trinamul Congress chief said.
Mamata said Bengal was in a precarious situation financially because of the policies pursued by the previous Left Front government and hence she had sought a moratorium on payment of interest for three years.
She said the demand for moratorium was a year-old and not linked to the presidential polls. “I have sought a moratorium on payment of interest (on central loans) for three years and this debt burden is not my creation. Unless there is a moratorium, how will we run the government,” she said.
“Whatever the state earns goes in repayment of interest. It is a very precarious situation. Please don’t link it with presidential elections,” Mamata said.
At that time, sources in Samajwadi Party said its leadership was inclined to support the candidature of Mukherjee for the next President. Yadav is understood to have told party MPs recently that he personally would prefer Mukherjee but the final decision could only be taken after Congress officially comes up with a name.
But the joint media conference of Mamata and Mulayam outside his house changed the complexion of the presidential race as well as the fate of the UPA.
The UPA was banking on Mulayam to bail it out in case Mamata’s pressure became unbearable. But today’s turn of events suggests Mamata and Mulayam have made common cause, not only robbing the UPA of a potential cushion but also putting in its path a powerful lobbying group.
However, others feel that Trinamul and Samajwadi will only join hands on a case-to-case basis and would shy away from forming a lasting coalition. The BJP played safe, saying it would respond after the Congress makes known its stand.
NCP president Sharad Pawar said that parties in the UPA should discuss and evolve a consensus on the presidential candidate.
“In the light of new developments, we will have to talk to all concerned (in the UPA) in the light of the TMC-SP decision and try to bring a consensus on the presidential choice,” he told reporters.
The West Bengal Pradesh Congress today expressed disappointment at Mamata’s refusal to back Mukherjee for President.
“We do not agree with the choice. We prefer Pranab Mukherjee to be the candidate for the President's post,” WBPCC president Pradip Bhattacherjee said.