Gandhi won't be VP - Governor turns down 'informal soundings'

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  • Published 13.07.07

July 12: Governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi has cleared the air, or has he?

Gandhi today issued a statement saying he was not a “likely candidate” for Vice-President, but confirming “informal soundings”.

“I am honoured to have been thought of for the high office of Vice-President of India. But, after careful reflection, I have respectfully declined to enter that zone of consideration,” the operative part of the statement said.

But in the introduction to the statement — issued in response to “media reports referring to me as a ‘likely candidate’” — the governor has mentioned the “informal soundings” without disclosing any names. “I have conveyed my disinclination and, later, have clearly declined to be considered for it,” Gandhi said in the statement.

The statement is unusual but not unparalleled — Gandhi is the second person associated with Bengal to issue a disclaimer on high office in recent times. In the run-up to the presidential poll, external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee had formally clarified more than once that he was not in the running.

Like the governor, Mukherjee, too, was forced to clear the air because of persistent media reports.

However, the governor’s hallmark prose did not shed light on the identity of the person who sounded him on vice-presidentship.

The governor’s office declined to elaborate, saying whatever he wanted to say was put in the statement.

The usual suspect would have been the Left. But after Nandigram brought out a burst of biting prose from Gandhi — he used the words “cold horror” to describe his anguish at the killings — that seems unlikely. CPM sources, too, denied having sounded Gandhi.

If Prakash Karat didn’t, did the Prime Minister? None will deny or confirm but Congress sources said they would not be surprised if Gandhi’s name had crossed Manmohan Singh’s mind at some point.

In the run-up to the deliberations on the presidential election, the Prime Minister did not raise any “apolitical names” as Karat insisted that a political person should occupy the office.

However, the furore surrounding Pratibha Patil’s candidature seems to have prompted a rethink in the Left on the Vice-President. If the Prime Minister or an emissary did approach Gandhi “informally”, it must have been based on the assessment that the Left wound would have healed somewhat.

Karat told The Telegraph today: “We hope to find a suitable person with a distinguished record in a particular field. He should have the widest possible acceptability, have stature and distinction and need not be political.

“What we said with regard to the presidential candidate does not hold for the Vice-President.”

Karat said no names had been discussed so far within the Left Front. But he made it clear that the exercise would have to start from the Left. “We will initiate the discussions,” he said.

The UPA-Left coordination committee is expected to meet shortly after the presidential election next week. Before that, the Left will meet to shortlist its names.

While the yardsticks laid out by Karat opened a window for people like Gandhi, they restricted the chances of prospectives such as Somnath Chatterjee and A.B. Bardhan, whose names were also doing the rounds. It is believed that neither Chatterjee nor Bardhan was keen on the job.

When the “third front” floated Farooq Abdullah’s name as its nominee, the Congress leadership reportedly sounded central minister Saifuddin Soz as a possible counter.

Soz is also from Kashmir and was in Abdullah’s National Conference before joining the Congress. However, since then, Abdullah has ruled himself out of the race.