New Delhi: Having made the first moves in the presidential polls by reaching out to its allies, the Congress has brightened the prospects of sending its candidate to the Rashtrapati Bhavan but faces a difficult choice in selecting its nominee from among possible names such as Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Vice President Hamid Ansari.
With speculation rife over whether Ansari, Mukherjee or a dark horse will emerge as the official nominee, allies of the party have been guarded about speaking in the media about their preference. But their off-the-record remarks and conditional answers indicate a growing enthusiasm for Mukherjee as the choice.
After DMK chief M. Karunanidhi Saturday pledged his party's support for the finance minister if his name is proposed as the presidential candidate, a Congress leader told IANS Sunday that Mukherjee was the front-runner at present.
"He is the front-runner," the leader said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
Speculation about Mukherjee emerging as the choice grew after Congress spokesperson Renuka Chowdury Thursday clarified her remarks about indispensability of Mukherjee to the government.
Other constituents of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) have also hailed Mukherjee's abilities.
Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) leader and union minister Ajit Singh said that there was no doubt about Mukherjee's abilities and the fact that he deserved the post of president.
While Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar has maintained that no individual names have been discussed, a party leader has said on the condition of anonymity that Mukherjee suited the party more.
Congress spokesperson Raashid Alvi said that the party was trying to evolve a consensus in the presidential polls.
"Very soon, we hope to create a consensus," Alvi told IANS.
He said the name of candidate will be declared after the process of consultations.
After its leader Sushma Swaraj's remarks on the possible candidates of the Congress backfired, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has also sought to change tack.
Party leader Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi has said that a consensus will be an ideal situation.
The party has also promised to consult its allies in the presidential election.
BJP's hopes of parties such as AIADMK, Biju Janata Dal and Samajwadi Party coming up with name of a common presidential candidate against the Congress have come unstuck so far.
Samajwadi Party has kept its cards close to its chest but has betrayed no indication of going against the Congress. Party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav's remarks about his preference for a political president are being seen as an indirect backing for Mukherjee.
Though Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee has said officially that all her options were open, Congress leaders believe the mercurial leader would find it difficult to oppose name of Mukherjee, a fellow Bengali.
The Left parties seem agreeable to both the names doing rounds as Congress candidates but want to comment on the nominee only after a name is officially announced.
In the electoral college to elect the new president, neither UPA or BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) command a majority.
A contest, if necessary, will be held in July.