Mulayam holds presidential cards close to his chest

Lucknow, May 17: While all eyes are on Mulayam Singh Yadav ahead of India’s presidential election, mum is the word in his camp. The Samajwadi Party chief is keeping his cards close to the chest, though his party’s support will be crucial in the ruling UPA’s choice of president.

In all the Samajwadi Party will hold 69,651 votes, critical for the UPA that is especially unsure of its temperamental West Bengal ally, Mamata Banerjee and her Trinamool Congress. Any candidate will need 548,507 votes to be elected president.

Refusing to be formally drawn into spelling out his choice for the next occupant at Rashtrapati Bhavan, the wrestler-turned-politician prefers to wait and watch.

“It is too early to give you a clear-cut answer as to we will back. Yes, in politics deliberations are always on,” Yadav told IANS.

Close aides, however, concede that the Yadav chieftain was testing the waters. He has made up his mind on the need for a political candidate for the presidency.

This, insiders feel, virtually rules out the possibility of a re-run for former president and eminent scientist A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, whom Yadav had pitchforked in the presidential race in 2002 with the help of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA).

“Mulayam has had a very close relationship with Kalam and they reciprocate each other’s feeling. But Netaji, as he is known to his supporters, feels Kalam does not fit the bill at 82 years,” the aide told IANS, requesting anonymity.

Informed sources say if Yadav’s will is not respected in the Congress-led UPA camp, he might opt for Kalam. This, some say, is expected to please his Muslim constituency.

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav is not averse to Kalam but is likely to let political expediency and other scenarios to be explored before taking a final call.

“Akhilesh has largely let the issue to be handled by party seniors and his father. He is only an occasional speaker during discussions on the subject,” said a party source.

The Yadav senior is understood to have spoken to senior politicians Sharad Pawar, Lalu Prasad and Sharad Yadav besides leaders of all the Left parties. While Lalu Yadav is for Vice President Hamid Ansari, the CPI is opposed to Kalam.

Congress leaders want Mulayam Yadav to fall in line if it goes with Hamid Ansari or Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee.

Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Bansal and Gandhi family loyalist Moti Lal Vora, who has known Mulayam for years, are said to be trying hard to gauge the Samajwadi leader’s mind.

Mulayam Yadav has a long ‘wish list’ if the UPA wants his support, said a senior party leader. He wants the Congress to loosen its purse strings for developmental work in Uttar Pradesh.

This will ultimately benefit the Akhilesh Yadav government, perhaps helping the Samajwadi Party to do better in the 2014 lok Sabha polls when it hopes to improve its position.

The Samajwadi Party has 224 members in the Uttar Pradesh assembly, ensuring it a major say in the presidential polls.

The electoral college for the presidential election consists of members of the Lok Sabha, the Rajya Sabha and all state assemblies.

(Mohit Dubey can be contacted at mohit.d@ians.in)

IANS