Cong likely to decide on Prez candidate next month

New Delhi: Despite Pranab Mukherjee`s name prominently doing the rounds, Congress is in no hurry to make up its mind on the Presidential candidate and the issue is still open with a decision expected only next month. A clear indication to this effect was given by a senior party leader, who said that party chief Sonia Gandhi would take up the consultations with supporting parties of the UPA only after the budget session of Parliament, which concludes on May 22.

The leader, who declined to be identified, said that the issue was still open but it does not at all mean that a dark horse is likely to emerge. Though Congress has not named any candidate for the top constitutional post so far, the names of Mukherjee and Vice President Hamid Ansari are being talked about with other parties already having indicated their preferences for one or the other.

Gandhi is expected to consult one-member parties supporting the Congress led UPA today and tomorrow to elicit their opinion too in the crucial matter. Congress is chanting the consensus mantra for the Presidential election in view of the fact that it was short of numbers in the electoral college if the entire UPA plus some outside supporters do not unitedly put up a candidate.

Party leaders have also said that they are open to talk to even the BJP for consensus. Of late even the BJP has been saying it favoured a consensus with some leaders indicating they are not averse to Mukherjee`s candidature. Congress spokesperson Rashid Alvi on Tuesday hailed Mukherjee as a "praiseworthy personality" but said it was too early to say anything on who would be the successor to Pratibha Patil, who is retiring on July 24.

Alvi also said he was "not ruling out" any name when he asked whether Congress` refusal to come out with a categorical response on Mukherjee`s candidature means he is being ruled out. Party leaders speaking on condition of anonymity said that ruling out Mukherjee`s candidature at this stage is indeed difficult, when a number of allies and other parties have officially and unofficially already named him as their preferred candidate.