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Prez poll on July 19, Mamata-Sonia talks tomorrow

New Delhi: As Election Commission fixed July 19 for the Presidential poll, Congress President Sonia Gandhi is set to hold crucial deliberations tomorrow with key UPA constituent Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee that could clinch the issue of coalition`s nominee.

Mercurial Banerjee, whose party is still playing hard ball with Congress before committing its support, met Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav immediately on arrival here this evening in what is seen as an attempt to work as an axis to extract a financial package for West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh.

Finance Minister Pranab Mukheree, widely believed to be the front-runner for UPA`s nomination, interestingly is himself involved in the exercise of working out a package for West Bengal to help meet its debt situation, a step that could ensure Trinamool`s backing. Various permutations and combinations, including working on the recommendations of the Finance Commission, are being considered even though Banerjee said her party`s support to UPA candidate has no link with the financial package.

On her part, Banerjee refused to disclose her party`s strategy when asked whether Trinamool would support Mukherjee, saying who the Congress picks its candidate is its business. She said Gandhi has invited her for discussions tomorrow on the Presidential candidate and "let us see what she has". Significantly, Banerjee said she would meet Yadav again after holding confabulations with Gandhi.

While Mukherjee continues to have a headstart, Congress sources also speak of Vice President Hamid Ansari or Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar as dark horses in view of the fact that the Finance Minister`s shift to Rashtrapati Bhavan involves looking for replacements in the Finance Ministry and as Leader of the Lok Sabha.

Mukherjee also appeared to be getting support from various sections with NCP, another key constituent of the alliance, saying the next President "will be seniormost person". Interestingly, though BJP has not come out with its stand, its MP Maneka Gandhi expressed her backing for Mukherjee, saying the country needs a "seasoned politician" like him.

Earlier in the day, the Election Commission announced the poll schedule by which voting will take place on July 19 and the next occupant of the Rashtrapati Bhavan would be known on July 22, two days before the term of the incumbent Pratibha Patil ends. Chief Election Commissioner V S Sampath said the notification for the poll will be issued on June 16. Last date of nomination will be June 30 and nominations can be withdrawn by July 4.

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