It is official. UPA nominee Pranab Mukherjee will face former Lok Sabha speaker P.A. Sangma in the July 19 presidential election. “We all decided P.A. Sangma is the most suitable candidate. So BJP supports P.A. Sangma as its presidential candidate,” Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj said. On a day of fast-paced developments, the BJP announced it would back Sangma, but within minutes, its key partner JD-U said it favoured Mukherjee for the top post. The announcement came after a week of hectic parleys that yielded little result as the BJP found itself cornered by the JD-U and Shiv Sena, both of whom were all for Mukherjee. Sushma Swaraj admitted that there was lack of consensus in the ranks of her party. It held several formal and informal meetings, but a consensus could not be built. “Two of the constituent parties are still not in favour of it, but we have decided we need to back a candidate,” she said.
Minutes after Swaraj’s announcement, JD-U chief Sharad Yadav told reporters that his party was sticking to its stand. “According to the present situation, our support is to Pranab Mukherjee, but we are not supporting the Congress,” he said. The BJP and the JD-U have a strained relationship not only over the presidential poll, but also on the NDA’s prime ministerial candidate in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. The BJP decision brought cheer for Sangma, who was one of the founders of NCP and is a Garo tribal from Meghalaya. He had the backing of Chief Ministers Jayalalitha and Naveen Patnaik for his presidential aspirations. Sangma also contacted Mamata Banerjee, who opposes Mukherjee, to back him. She is yet to make up her mind. Sangma clarified that he was “not a candidate of a single party, but of the national tribal front” – an attempt to woo smaller parties to his cause. But it was not only the NDA that had divisions within its ranks on the presidential issue. The four parties in the Left grouping also shared different views.
As expected, the Communist Party of India-Marxist and the Forward Block supported Mukherjee, while the Communist Party of India and the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) decided to abstain from voting – a move which will only help Mukherjee. The numbers in the Electoral College clearly favour Mukherjee. As of today, Mukherjee is ahead with 56.17 percent of votes with Shiv Sena, JD-U and two Left parties supporting him. Sangma is at 31.7 percent minus the Trinamool Congress.