West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Monday spelt out her choice of candidates to replace Pratibha Patil as President and Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee was not among them. Pranab is considered by many as a frontrunner for the President’s post but the Trinamool Congress chief didn’t seem keen to back him.
In an interview to an English news channel, Mamata said she would love to see either Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar, former West Bengal governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi or former President APJ Abdul Kalam enter Rashtrapati Bhavan.
“I love Meira Kumar. She is very soft spoken. Gopal Gandhi has done good work. Abdul Kalam was a good President,” the West Bengal chief minister told the channel.
Though Mamata did not reject Pranab’s candidature for the top post, she said her party would like to see Meira in the post. “If you ask my party’s choice or my personal choice, then I’ll say that I love Meira Kumar. She is a softspoken lady from the scheduled caste (SC) background,” she said.
The Trinamool chief also said her party would not interfere in the Congress’ business as to who should be its presidential candidate. “We cannot say. I cannot interfere in the Congress party’s business,” she said.
Mamata’s reluctance to back Pranab has come as a surprise to many in the Capital. While the Congress feigned ignorance, RJD chief Lalu Prasad took a jibe at her saying: “Why doesn’t Mamata become the President.”
Officially, the Congress steered clear of the Trinamool Congress chief’s comment. “I have not heard or seen the statement,” party spokesman Rashid Alvi said. He said the party would consult everybody concerned on the issue of the next President.
The relationship between Mamata and Pranab had worsened after the Centre refused to sanction a special bailout package or a three-year moratorium for cash-starved Bengal.
Despite her several ultimatums, the Union finance minister had categorically said it was not possible for the central government to financially assist one particular state.
One year since coming to power, the Mamata-led Trinamool Congress is battling a huge financial crisis it reportedly inherited from the former Left Front government in West Bengal. Sources said the state government has to pay Rs.22,000 crore annually to the Centre towards repayment of loans.
“In the past one year Mamata has failed to squeeze out any special grant from the central government. Now is her time to bargain with the Centre before the presidential election,” political analyst Sabyasachi Basu Roychowdhury felt.
While Mamata has openly come out in support of Meira and others, Tamil Nadu chief minister J. Jayalalithaa has been lobbying for Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader P.A. Sangma, demanding that India should have a tribal President, a move that has found support from Orissa chief minister Naveen Patnaik.
Congress sources also ruled out supporting NCP leader Sangma. Party sources said he is being propped up by some chief ministers with the tacit understanding of the BJP. “If a tribal and a Christian is the qualification, then former chief election commissioner J.M. Lyngdoh is a better candidate,” a Congress leader said.
Sources said a peeved Mamata is unlikely to attend the third anniversary dinner of UPA-II, scheduled in the Capital on Tuesday.