New Delhi/Kolkata, June 10: Speculation about Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee emerging as the Congress candidate for presidential elections grew Sunday with a senior party leader from West Bengal rooting for him and appealing to party ally Trinamool Congress to support his candidature.
State Irrigation Minister Manas Bhunia, who has earlier headed the Congress’ West Bengal unit, said that Mukherjee was the most apt choice for the post but added that the final decision had to be taken by the party’s central leadership.
‘Discussions about our nominee for the presidential election are still on and the ultimate decision vests with the party high command. But we feel Mukherjee is the most apt choice for the post,’ Bhunia told media persons in Kolkata.
‘What has been concerning us the most is the silence of our ally – the Trinamool Congress. I appeal to them and their supremo (Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee) to support Mukherjee as the choice for the president,’ he added.
Bhunia’s remarks came two days after Mukherjee signalled his interest in the post of president while on a visit to West Bengal, but said it was for the party to decide.
Congress sources in New Delhi said Bhunia’s remarks signified public endorsement of Mukherjee’s candidature by the West Bengal Congress leaders and could have a bearing on the decision of high command.
They said the remarks were aimed at increasing probability of Mukherjee emerging as the final choice.
The Trinamool Congress was unlikely to oppose his candidature as the party will find it politically imprudent to be seen as blocking chances of a Bengali to occupy the top post, they added.
Banerjee had earlier expressed reservations on Mukherjee’s presidential candidature.
The Congress is expected to announce its presidential candidate in the coming week before the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh leaves the country to attend the G-20 meeting.
On Saturday, party leader Janardan Dwivedi had said that discussions with the party’s allies in United Progressive Alliance were continuing and no name had been finalised.
Congress sources said the party will strive for ‘maximum amount of consensus’ in selecting a candidate
The past week saw a meeting of party’s core group and Congress president Sonia Gandhi stepping up consultations for the top post with UPA allies on the presidential election.
After the core group meeting Friday, Gandhi’s political secretary Ahmed Patel met Mukherjee in his office for almost an hour.
The name of Vice President Hamid Ansari has also been doing the rounds as a possible Congress candidate in the presidential polls.
The Bharatiya Janata Party, which intends to convene a meeting of National Democratic Alliance (NDA) to discuss the presidential election, has avoided comments on the issue after remarks of party leader Sushma Swaraj drew flak from its ally Janata Dal-United.
BJP sources said that the party is likely to come out with its stance after Congress declares its candidate.
Former Lok Sabha Speaker P. A. Sangma, whose candidature is being supported by the Biju Janata Dal and the AIADMK, had Friday met senior BJP leader L.K. Advani to apparently seek the party’s support.