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Pranab plans three-day campaign in Northeast

Guwahati/Shillong, June 26: Pranab Mukherjee, who resigned as Union finance minister today, is planning a three-day trip to the Northeast in the first week of July seeking support for his candidature.

His rival in the presidential polls, P.A. Sangma, is set to launch his campaign in his native Tura from Sunday.

Congress insiders here and in Delhi told The Telegraph that Mukherjee was likely to meet senior leaders of Congress-ruled states of the Northeast in Guwahati but will personally visit the non-Congress-ruled states.

The Congress holds the reins of the government in Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya and Mizoram while it is in the Opposition in Nagaland, Sikkim and Tripura. Mukherjee has already sounded out Tripura chief minister Manik Sarkar, the only Left-ruled state in the region. The idea behind the Northeast trip is to send the message that Mukherjee is contesting for the post of President which is above party politics and also try neutralise the impact of Sangma’s tribal card campaign which will have a few takers in the tribal-dominated region.

The Opposition AGP in Assam has already thrown its weight behind Sangma.

Assam PCC president Bhubaneswar Kalita said in Guwahati the tentative dates for the trip are July 5, 6 and 7. “He will be coming but we are yet to receive any formal communication about his schedule,” he said.

Sources close to DoNER minister Paban Singh Ghatowar, who is among the 12-member coordination campaign committee set up by the Congress to finalise Mukherjee’s strategy and campaign schedule, said the UPA’s nominee would be in Guwahati on July 5, barring last-minute changes. Mukherjee will file his nomination on June 28.

Sangma, too, will be filing his nomination papers for the race to Raisina Hill the same day before he kickstarts his campaign against UPA nominee Mukherjee from Tura, the headquarters of his home district, West Garo Hills, on Sunday.

Confirming this today, Sangma’s son and Meghalaya leader of the Opposition Conrad K. Sangma said his father would land in Guwahati on Saturday before leaving for his home in Tura.

“Nomination papers for the election would be filed on Thursday. An inter-religious prayer meeting will be held on Sunday at our home in Dakopgre, Tura. The prayer meeting will be for our family members, but anyone who would like to join us can participate. He (Sangma) will also kickstart his presidential campaign from Tura,” Conrad said over phone.

He said Sangma would seek the blessings of the Almighty and the people of Garo hills before embarking on the race to replace President Pratibha Patil.

Sangma senior resigned from the Tura Assembly seat last week after declaring his candidature for the presidential election against Mukherjee.

He had also tendered his resignation from the primary membership of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).

Sangma seeks UDP support: Sangma has sought the support of the United Democratic Party in Meghalaya, which has 10 legislators, in a letter. UDP president Donkupar Roy said while the party was yet to meet on the presidential election, on a personal note he announced his support to Sangma.