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Prez poll expected to go down to the wire

New Delhi: With the recent ganging up of regional parties on common issues, the coming Presidential election appears set to go down to the wire unless the ruling UPA manages to evolve a consensus on the successor to incumbent Pratibha Patil.

A `give and take` formula on the Vice Presidential election that follows the Presidential poll is also not ruled out if a successful consensus is evolved on the nominee who will occupy the Rashtrapati Bhavan next.

Both the Congress and the BJP and their respective alliances do not command a majority in the electoral college and have to work on getting the support of parties outside their combinations to get their candidates elected if they are keen on a contest.

The Congress has 31 per cent of the total votes against 24 per cent of the BJP in an electoral college that is expected to be 10,98,882. The UPA has a little over 40 per cent of the total votes against 57 per cent it had in the last elections. The NDA has less than 30 per cent.

Hence, the role of parties like TMC, SP, AIADMK, BSP and BJD assume significance in the elections over which speculation has started on the names. Last time the Left parties suggested dark horse Pratibha Patil and her sailing was smooth.

With just a little less than 4 months to go for the Presidential election, this time, so far, no names have emerged as a possible candidate. There was speculation earlier over Prime Minister Manmohan Singh`s name but Congress President Sonia Gandhi ruled out that possibility after the UP Assembly elections.

Another possible name is that of Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee but how much will the Congress leadership be ready to sacrifice his services which are considered indispensable for running the coalition that is increasingly hopping from crisis to crisis in UPA 2.

This time the Samajwadi Party and the BSP as also the Trinamool Congress are going to call the shots. The three parties are not in a hurry to firm up their stand. Mulayam Singh Yadav`s SP is euphoric after UP victory while Mamata Banerjee is a hard ally for Congress to please either at the Centre or in West Bengal.

BJP has not been approached by the ruling alliance on the issue. Senior party leader Arun Jaitley has said sometime back that the Government should first decide its candidate and come to it for consultation. He was asked whether the BJP would help Congress in the matter.

As media reported that Congress could be cosying up to Jayalalithaa, there was speculation that BJP may also make attempts to woo her. Jaitley is said to have sought time for a meeting with Jayalalithaa in Chennai this week. In such a scenario, the BJP-led NDA would insist that the Vice Presidentship should come to it in return for support in the Presidential polls.

A Congress Chief Minister, who declined to be named, said that the ruling alliance could not afford giving the Vice Presidentship to the opposition given the fact that he is also the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha. "It will be like giving the Upper House to the opposition on a platter at a time when the UPA does not have majority there," the Chief Minister said.

Congress spokesman Abhishek Singhvi, however, chanted the mantra of consensus.
"As the leading party of the ruling coalition, the Congress will ensure that the most apposite person adorns this high office and for that the Congress will strive to forge intra-UPA and cross-political consensus," Singhvi said.

Senior SP leader Mohan Singh said that his party has not given any thought on the issue of Presidential polls. BSP MP Vijay Bahadur Singh said that party chief Mayawati is yet to take a call in the matter.

TMC chief and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has kept the Congress guessing in the matter saying that the elections are still months away. She has sidestepped questions whether she would like the next President to be from her state.

JD-U`s Shivanand Tewari said that it would be best if the Congress "gives up its arrogance" and talks to all parties and unanimously decides the name of a "dignified leader" to succeed Pratibha Patil. "Congress should realise that it has lost clout and it cannot have its way and the way ahead is consensus", he said.

Reports quoting an unnamed senior UPA leader had it that Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal could be a probable candidate in the next Vice Presidential elections if the UPA wants to have its candidate of choice as the next President.

Badal, whose Shiromani Akali Dal is part of the BJP-led NDA, could be an ideal candidate in the Vice Presidential polls so that UPA can have its candidate to succeed President Pratibha Patil easily as a consensus nominee.

With BJP ruling several states and regional parties like SP, Trinamool Congress, AIADMK in charge of crucial states like UP, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu respectively, a deal with non-UPA parties could only make the choice a smooth affair, the leader said.

Political observers have interpreted the recent coming together of regional parties on one platform and opposing the formation of the proposed anti-terror body, the National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC), as significant ahead of the Presidential election.

Ten years ago, the then Rajasthan Chief Minister late Bhairon Singh Shekhawat was made a Vice Presidential candidate by NDA which was in power then. Shekhawat had then defeated Sushilkumar Shinde put up by Congress and its allies. The exercise on who will be the next President is expected to gain momentum during the second part of the Budget session of Parliament beginning April 24.

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