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Several influential Congress leaders are trying to drum up support for Pranab Mukherjee as the party's candidate for the president's post. They believe the finance minister should be rewarded for his valuable contribution to the party over the past several decades. These leaders feel Mukherjee with his vast experience and widespread acceptability will fetch the Congress votes from across the political spectrum.
A few Congress leaders think the high command would find it difficult to ignore the fact that the tide is in Mukherjee's favour. If the party does not make him the presidential candidate, it might have to compensate in some other way. A suggestion doing the rounds is he be made the deputy prime minister but th
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The Bengal lobby wants the party to elevate him. Their logic: it is high time that a Bengali is in charge of the highest constitutional office in the country.
Adhir Choudhury, the MP from Mukherjee's adjoining constituency in Murshidabad district, has been vocal about his choice for the Bengali strongman. Choudhury and his fellow MPs from Bengal believe if the finance minister becomes the president, it would revive the sagging spirits of the party workers in the state.
And the anti-Mukherjee camp feels he — with his vast political experience and in-depth knowledge of the Constitution — might be too individualist a president who might create problems for the ruling dispensation. These critics wonder if a man of Mukherjee's calibre would be the right choice given the Congress history of having nonentities in constitutional positions.
Another camp has been harping on the fact that Mukherjee is indispensable to the government and the UPA would miss his wise advice, especially during the run-up to the difficult 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
Congress leaders appear reluctant to discuss the matter in detail ever since Sonia Gandhi told reporters on Thursday that there was plenty of time to decide on a candidate.
Also, the Congress is well aware that it has an edge over the BJP. Senior party leader Sushma Swaraj recently scored a self-goal and upset party allies when she said vice-president Hamid Ansari lacked the "stature" to become the president and that the party would prefer a contest to accepting any name proposed by the Congress. The JD(U) has lambasted the BJP and openly voiced support for Mukherjee.
The Congress is going about the consultation process with its allies in a calibrated manner. When defence minister AK Antony, the party emissary, met DMK chief M Karunanidhi last week, he asked the ageing leader if he had anyone in mind. Antony gave out a few names only after Karunanidhi enquired about the possible Congress candidate, indicating that the party has not finalised on anyone yet.
The Congress also tried to gauge the mood of the temperamental West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee before divulging any names. The party did extra groundwork by sending Kamal Nath ahead of Banerjee's scheduled meeting with Sonia Gandhi.
The party will conduct similar meetings with other allies and reach out to friendly parties such as the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party.
Banerjee remains an obstacle block though. While Sharad Pawar and Karunanidhi have almost given their nod, Banerjee has remained noncommittal. Even the idea of having a Bengali in the Rashtrapati Bhavan does not seem to carry much political value for her.
On Friday she jokingly said she too would love to be a presidential candidate when quizzed about Mukherjee. The Congress will have to take her financial demands seriously if it wants her to back the party's presidential candidate.
Wait and watch
While everyone feels Pranab is best suited for the job, he may still need to convince his boss
The finance minister has won over almost everybody. But has he managed to regain the trust of the Gandhis?
Relations between Sonia Gandhi and Pranab Mukherjee, though never frosty, have never been one of great warmth and trust
Once considered Indira’s blue-eyed boy, Pranab fell foul of the Gandhis after her assassination in 1984 as he was eager to take over as the PM
Pranab quit the Congress to float the Rashtriya Samajwadi Congress in 1986 and was brought back by former PM Narasimha Rao who made him the deputy chairman of the planning commission
Though his return journey had begun, Pranab failed to stay in touch with Sonia. The suspicion probably remained
When Sonia took over the Congress in the late 90s, Pranab fought his way back into its hierarchy, establishing himself as the number two in the Rajya Sabha where Manmohan Singh was the leader
Even then, Sonia perhaps always found it easier to trust her coterie comprising Ahmed Patel and AK Antony
From 2004 onwards, Mukherjee proved how indispensable he is to the party. Trained in governance under Indira, he headed 42 GoMs at one point
Sonia, however, ignored him and made Manmohan the PM in 2004 and chose Pratibha Patil over Pranab in 2007 for president
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