Mukherjee and Sangma arrive to file their nomination papers on Thursday. Pictures by PTI and Ramakant Kushwaha
New Delhi, June 28: Parliament’s corridors had never seemed so crowded.
Even Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi had to jostle their way through the crush of ministers, MPs and party politicians who had come to see Pranab Mukherjee file his nomination for President this morning.
Present at the venue, the Rajya Sabha secretariat, were the Congress brass, cabinet ministers, UPA stalwarts and outside supporters from Mulayam Singh Yadav and Lalu Prasad to Satish Chandra Mishra and Ram Vilas Paswan.
The show of strength prompted Mukherjee’s election agent, parliamentary affairs minister Pawan Bansal, to voice an open secret: the contest would be a “one-sided affair”.
While senior leaders from all the parties, including Manmohan, Sonia and Rahul Gandhi, were allowed inside the room, hundreds waited in the corridor recalling Mukherjee’s fasbled wisdom and memory, his fetish for details and his infamous temper.
Everyone — from old ministerial colleague to young MP, bureaucrat to ordinary political worker — agreed that Mukherjee was the right man for President.
Many veterans claimed they had never seen Parliament’s corridors choked in this manner, nor this kind of enthusiasm or assemblage of leaders from such a wide political spectrum.
The Congress had ensured attendance by all its chief ministers, state unit presidents, legislature party leaders and working committee members.
But the breadth of support for Mukherjee was reflected in the presence of the National Conference’s Farooq Abdullah, the DMK’s T.R. Baalu, the Rashtriya Lok Dal’s Ajit Singh, the Nationalist Congress Party’s D.P. Tripathi, the Muslim League’s E. Ahmed, the Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen’s Asaduddin Owaisi, the Jharkhand Vikas Morcha’s Babulal Marandi, the All India United Democratic Front’s Badruddin Ajmal, and the Bahujan Samaj Party’s Dara Singh Chauhan.
“Mukherjee’s stature today is so high in Indian politics that most of the parties told us he should be President and that the victory margin would be far beyond anybody’s imagination,” Bansal later said.
While Mukherjee submitted two nomination papers himself, Manmohan and Sonia presented two other sets. Altogether, the four sets bore the signatures of 486 MPs and MLAs, including senior ministers, chief ministers, leaders from allies and even Sharad Yadav from NDA partner Janata Dal (United), though he was not present today.
Two major supporters, the CPM and the Shiv Sena, had not been asked to sign the papers.
Mukherjee, though, thanked the Samajwadi Party, BSP, Dal (United), CPM, the Sena and others for reposing faith in him. “I am grateful to them as they have reposed faith in me to occupy the office which was occupied in the past by great stalwarts of this country,” he said soon after filing his nomination.
P.A. Sangma too filed his papers, with the BJP brass out in full strength. L.K. Advani, Nitin Gadkari, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley all flanked the candidate; the party even got two of its chief ministers, Shivraj Singh Chauhan (Madhya Pradesh) and Manohar Parrikar (Goa), to be present.
Of the two chief ministers who had been the first to back Sangma, Odisha’s Naveen Patnaik was there but his Tamil Nadu counterpart Jayalalithaa sent a representative, M. Thambidurai. Sources said that she was no longer too enthusiastic given that Sangma stood little chance.
Punjab chief minister and Shiromani Akali Dal leader Parkash Singh Badal turned up, though.
Sangma appeared enthusiastic. “Today is a victory for tribal unity — that a tribal is filing his nomination for the post of President,” he said, criticising Sonia for not supporting him and allegedly refusing to meet him.
Sharad Yadav’s absence from the UPA show of strength came as some sort of relief for the BJP although he was one of the proposers for Mukherjee’s candidature.
Yadav later said there was “no divide in the NDA”, arguing that support for Mukherjee did not mean support for the UPA.
The BJP’s core group met in the evening to discuss strategy in a bid to ensure that Sangma puts up a good fight.
“Mukherjee has become a symbol of failed governance and corruption. We want to defeat him,” Ananth Kumar said after the meeting.