Lucknow: Samajwadi Party (SP) chief Mulayam Singh Yadav was not averse to a "slight climbdown" on union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee as president but was completely against Vice President Hamid Ansari, his party indicated Thursday as suspense built up on who could be the next occupant of Rashtrapati Bhavan.
Holding 69,651 votes of the necessary 548,507 votes in the July 19 presidential elections, Mulayam Singh, whose party props the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) from outside, knew his strength and was now using it with "brute force", a close aide admmitted to IANS on condition of anonymity.
The candid comment came a day after Mulayam Singh teamed up with Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee to announce that their preferred choices for president were Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, former president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam and former Lok Sabha speaker Somnath Chatterjee. The shock list came less than an hour after Banerjee had announced that the Congress' first choice for the post was Mukherjee and the second Ansari.
As rumours swirled, the Congress was trying its best to "gauge the mind" of the Yadav chief, SP insiders told IANS.
Close aides said the SP supremo was in touch with all "like minded parties" and that he was "connecting" with "people who mattered". The canny politician knew the stakes and was playing his cards well to ensure that his nominee would be the Congress' choice as well.
Sources said Mulayam Singh had been tipped off about the Congress stance Thursday morning itself, well before the party said that Manmohan Singh would be prime minister till 2014 and that it rejected Kalam and Chatterjee as well. He was told that Congress chief Sonia Gandhi was "personally not inclined" for a re-run for former president Kalam.
"Neta-ji was sounded that the Congress leadership would not support the three names he and Mamata didi had announced yesterday (Wednesday)," said a senior SP leader.
Highly placed sources said the Congress had roped in Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief Lalu Prasad as well to gauge Mulayam Singh's mind but to no avail. Lalu Prasad tried to impress upon Mulayam Singh that supporting the Congress candidate was a "wise option" but the wily politician chose not to reveal whether he would be "accommodative enough".
The SP national president, through trusted aide and party general secretary Kiranmay Nanda, was also keeping West Bengal Chief Minister Banerjee in the loop and was "exchanging notes" on the day's developments.
Party spokesperson Rajendra Chowdhary and close Mulayam aide said the party stood by Mulayam Singh's candidates and felt that the names suggested by him were "best options".
Arvind Singh 'Gop', a senior minister in the Akhilesh Yadav government, echoed the sentiment and said whatever Mulayam Singh said would be final word, and the outcome of a lot of thought and due discussion.
Other leaders in the party too chose to be supportive of Netaji's choice.