Open to backing Pranab, NDA may seek V-P post
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Shortly after UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi announced Mukherjee was their nominee for the top post, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj, senior BJP leader L K Advani and floor leaders of other parties in both the Houses to solicit support for him.
While NDA leaders, who deliberated for over 90 minutes at Advani's residence, chose to defer a decision, sources indicated that the alliance was open to the option of backing Mukherjee. And this was for two reasons: one, the veteran leader shares an excellent equation with opposition leaders and they are convinced of his qualification for the post; and two, the numbers are stacked in favour of the UPA after Mulayam's about-turn.
The JD(U) reportedly had also told the NDA to support Mukherjee and instead bargain for the vice-president's post. Backing Mukherjee, it believes, will send across a healthy message.
While the party had earlier hinted at backing Kalam, a top JD-U leader close to Chief Minister Nitish Kumar told The Indian Express on Friday: "Now that we have a man of big stature in the fray and Kalam is not keen to contest, the NDA is not left with much option."
The NDA too admitted that the situation as far as Kalam goes had changed. Sources in the alliance said: "He (Kalam) is disinclined to contest unless he is sure of a comfortable victory... (That is) obviously not happening."
Kalam, who was in Patna for a function today, reacted cautiously earlier in the day, telling reporters he would "take right decision at the right time".
According to sources, apart from entering into an understanding with the UPA and seeking the post of vice-president for itself in return for support for Mukherjee, the NDA is exploring the option of putting up a token but principled fight by supporting former Lok Sabha speaker
P A Sangma. However, Sangma has been under pressure from own NCP leadership to pull out of the race.
Besides, while the BJP already has an aspirant for the vice-president's post in reportedly Jaswant Singh, looking from the Congress perspective, there is no need to part with the vice-presidency. (The occupant of the post, after all, is also the chairman of the Rajya Sabha.)
Apprising his colleagues of the discussions he had had with Jayalalithaa yesterday, Advani said the AIADMK chief had told him that she would persuade Sangma to withdraw from the contest if non-UPA parties were in a position to defeat the government by fielding someone else.
Sources also said while NDA convenor Sharad Yadav did not seem enthused over backing Kalam, NDA leaders were hopeful that he could be persuaded in case the course of future developments favoured him.
They are also in favour of biding time to see how much support is forthcoming for Kalam from other quarters. An outwardly low-key BJP effort to prop up Kalam's candidature is considered helpful in ensuring a wider acceptance of his name.
When Sharad Yadav referred to the backward-Muslim credentials of Vice-President Mohammad Hamid Ansari and saw political merit in backing him, Swaraj said Ansari did not belong to the weaver community, to which most Ansaris belonged. The Vice-President, she pointed out, had an elite background.
Incidentally, sources in the BJP said whatever be the case, party leaders would not decide without informally taking Mamata into confidence. As far as the NDA is concerned, Mamata's near-exit from the UPA is a definite long-term gain.
Sharad Yadav said at the alliance meeting that while he was sure that Mamata would not relent from her stand, he could state on the basis of his experience that Mulayam could shift his position. Considering what followed, his words were almost prophetic.
With ENS in Patna
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