The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Ally ache for Cong choice

New Delhi, June 13: UPA ally M. Karunanidhi tonight introduced an element of uncertainty in the Congress plan to field Shivraj Patil for President, saying “two to three” names were being discussed.

Sources said the Tamil Nadu chief minister had told the Congress that “stronger candidates” were needed, echoing the Left.

“Two to three names were discussed. No decision has been taken,” Karunanidhi told reporters after an hour-long meeting at the Prime Minister’s house where Sonia Gandhi was also present.

Asked whether he would mediate between the Left and the Congress, the DMK veteran said: “I have just come for that.”

The statement confirmed suggestions that the Left is not happy with the choice of home minister Patil as the candidate. But the Congress has so far not given any indication that it was willing to reconsider Patil’s candidature.

The UPA is expected to meet tomorrow to thrash out the issue. The weekly cabinet meeting on Thursday has been cancelled. The clock has officially begun ticking on the presidential poll — set for July 19 — with the Election Commission announcing the schedule.

Karunanidhi’s talks in Delhi came on a day divisions between the Congress and the Left on the choice of candidate persisted despite a renewed attempt by foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee to clear the air.

In the second such statement in the run-up to the poll, Mukherjee dismissed as “speculative and tendentious” reports suggesting he was a candidate.

The foreign minister, who was described as “indispensable” by the party, said Sonia would announce the candidate after consultations with allies and supporting parties. “Her decision will have the full support of all our allies and partners,” he said.

The Left parties are reportedly miffed with the Congress leadership for teaming up with Mayavati and finalising the UPA nominee.

The CPM is wondering why Sonia and the Congress “ignored” the second largest group (the Left) and preferred the BSP. Congress leaders said they had reasons to win over Mayavati as the BJP was trying to court her.

The BJP had reportedly asked the BSP to oppose the UPA, create a crisis and somehow force general elections. But the BSP, according to Congress sources, responded with disdain.

Sensing signs of disquiet within the UPA and the Left, the “third front” began floating the names of retired Supreme Court judge Fathima Beevi and Kashmir’s Farooq Abdullah as possible candidates.

The front, which includes the ADMK, Samajwadi Party and the Telugu Desam, sent signals to the Left to back a “secular” person. But the Left apparently is unmoved.

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