Congress sources quickly ruled out the possibility of the Prime Minister being shifted to Rashtrapati Bhavan, but the public suggestion by two powerful satraps can deepen doubts about his effectiveness during the remainder of the term. In fact, the manoeuvre by the two allies who are likely to benefit from an early Lok Sabha election raised doubts if the coalition would last its full term.
The high-wattage political drama unfolded in public in a span of less than two hours, with Banerjee shooting down both candidates of the Congress: Mukherjee as well as Vice-President Hamid Ansari, after a meeting with Sonia Gandhi. Banerjee said, “We had detailed discussions. Soniaji told me that she had discussions with allies and that her first choice was Pranab Mukherjee and second Hamid Ansari. I told her that at this point in time, I cannot say anything. We need to discuss with Mulayam Singhji and within my own party.”
Soon after, the West Bengal chief minister came in her personal car to hold talks with the SP chief. Addressing a press conference minutes later, the two listed their three preferences—Kalam, Manmohan, and Chatterjee—appealing to all political parties to endorse one of them.
Given the significance of their decision, the two leaders arrived at it rather swiftly, pointing to a plan.
Trinamool sources confirmed that the two leaders had been confabulating for sometime to draw up a short list, which also included Speaker Meira Kumar and Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson Gopal Krishna Gandhi.
The joint show left Congressmen intrigued about what they were up to. The SP boss had all along not only assured Congressmen that he would support Mukherjee, but in fact, also lobbied for the finance minister, giving him an edge over Ansari.