BJP rules out backing Mukherjee in presidential polls

New Delhi, April 30: With Vice-President Hamid Ansari and Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee emerging as probable Congress choices for the presidential polls, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Monday ruled out supporting either of them and said the party was open to supporting a candidate chosen by non-Congress parties.

Senior BJP leader Sushma Swaraj spelt out broad parameters of the party’s approach to the presidential polls even as Congress said that discussions on the choice of candidate were at “nascent” stage.

“We will not accept any Congress candidate, including Pranab Mukherjee, for the president’s post,” Sushma Swaraj told reporters.

She also ruled out any understanding with the Congress under which BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) would support United Progressive Alliance’s presidential candidate and get its return support for vice-president’s post.

“We are looking at the 2014 elections and do not want to give the impression that we have any truck with the Congress,” Swaraj said.

Asked if BJP could support former president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, Sushma Swaraj said the party was open to the idea.

“We can have an understanding with non-Congress parties where we support their presidential candidate and they support our vice-presidential candidate,” she said.

She said BJP was gauging the mood of the UPA allies and pointed to possibility of a contest.

“We will contest to win. We will work out an arithmetic,” she said.

Asked about Ansari, Swaraj said he “does not have the stature to be president”.

Congress sources told IANS that allies were being sounded out on Ansari and Mukherjee as probable party choices.

Defence Minister A.K. Antony Sunday met DMK chief M. Karunanidhi to hold consultations on the choice of presidential nominee. Party president Sonia Gandhi had earlier met Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar.

“A broad sounding out is taking place. The allies are being conveyed that if they have any names in mind, the party is ready to look,” a Congress leader told IANS.

He said with the party lacking numbers, the wishes of UPA allies will play a role in final choice of candidate.

Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari said the discussions were preliminary and the party was for widest possible consent in the presidential polls.

“If nascent process is underway, it should be allowed to fructify..Let’s not try to speculate the process… There is a time limit according to constitution,” he said.

Tewari said Congress always believed that for august constitutional offices, there should be “widest possible consultations” and “widest possible consent”.

Sidestepping a question about whether the new president should be a political personality or “apolitical” person, the spokesperson said Congress was for a president “who fits the bill” according to constitutional stipulations.

Tewari said it was extremely premature to speculate about a name.

UPA ally NCP has already said that it was for an “agreed candidate”. Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), which supports UPA from outside, has favoured Ansari as presidential nominee.

Meanwhile, Mukherjee Monday urged voters not to indulge in speculation.

The term of President Pratibha Patil will come to an end in the third week of July.

The UPA has over 40 percent of the total votes in the electoral college while the NDA has less than 30 percent.

IANS