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Prez poll: Cong top brass to meet, strategise response

New Delhi: Faced with dramatic developments in the presidential race after allies proposed fresh names, Congress top brass, including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and party chief Sonia Gandhi, will meet this evening to strategise a response.

The meeting will be the first formal deliberation of the top leaders of the ruling party a day after Mamata Banerjee and Mulayam Singh Yadav came out with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh`s name as one of their choices in the Presidential race.

The chiefs of Trinamool Congress and Samajwadi Party said they could also be agreeable on the candidature of former president APJ Abdul Kalam or former Lok Sabha speaker Somnath Chatterjee.

Mukherjee, who met Gandhi this morning, will be present at the meeting of the Congress Core Group which has senior leaders like A K Antony, P Chidambaram and Ahmad Patel, Political Secretary to Gandhi, as members.

Though some Congress sources ruled out the possibility of Singh participating in the presidential race, there was no official response so far from the party to the manner in which SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav and TMC leader Mamata Banerjee mentioned the name of the Prime Minister.

Gandhi had yesterday informed TMC leader and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee that her party`s first choice for Rashtrapati Bhawan was Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee. When Mamata pressed for a second Congress choice Gandhi mentioned Vice President Hamid Ansari`s name.

A bigger surprise came immediately thereafter when Mamata and Yadav disclosed the names of Singh, Kalam and Chatterjee as their preferred candidates. This dramatic turn of events left the Presidential race wide open and put the Congress in a dilemma. The party needs the support of both TMC and SP to ensure that its candidate wins. Other allies such as DMK, NCP, RLD and NC, have already indicated their support for Mukherjee.

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