Trinamool Congress Chief Mamata Banerjee on Thursday strongly pitched for A P J Abdul Kalam for the post of President and indicated that in case no consensus emerges on his candidature there will be a contest. Speaking to reporters here before meeting SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, Banerjee said "Kalam is our and Mulayam Singh Yadav's number one candidate. Don't say he is a BJP candidate, or Navin's (Patnaik) candidate or Mamata's candidate... Kalam was our candidate. He will be the best candidate." She maintained there should be a consensus on Kalam and insisted that he is a candidate who holds the position and stature required for the top post.
"Who can say that we will not support Kalam? Even in a direct election, the people of the country will support him," she said. She maintained she and Yadav had given a "clarion call" for Kalam as he is a good person who should be elected to the top post. "We want a consensus on Kalam," she said. Asked if Congress does not agree to Kalam's candidature, Banerjee said "if Congress agrees, well... else we will go according to our choice." The TMC Chief said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh would also be a good choice and she would have been "happy" if he was but if "his party does not want him as a candidate" she could not do anything. Ruling out the possibility of her quitting UPA, Banerjee said "I have not left UPA but if UPA wants, then it is their choice... The ball is with Congress."
"I am a simple man (sic). Mine is a small party," "I am a simple man (sic). Mine is a small party," Banerjee said. Asked if these differences could lead to a mid-term polls, the TMC chief said "there is nothing related to mid-term elections." On the possibility of a ruling party candidate losing the Presidential polls, she said "then that party will decide". Banerjee indicated there is virtually no chance of her or Yadav backing out from their stand now. "There is no instance when we have broken it (our stand). What has occurred that we break it? Our credibility is dear to us."
"We are for Kalam," Banerjee told this morning when asked whether she would support Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee or Vice President Hamid Ansari, believed to be the first and the second choices of Congress.
Her party MP Kunal Ghosh went a step further, saying if Congress fields Mukherjee or Ansari, Trinamool will "contest" the election with Kalam as its nominee. "I can visualise a contest if Congress goes ahead with the names of Pranab Mukherjee or Hamid Ansari...If Congress names either Pranab Mukherjee or Ansari, then TMC will contest... Trinamool Congress or Samajwadi Party then may go with A P J Abdul Kalam," he said.
Even as Trinamool Congress today insisted that A P J Abdul Kalam was its first choice as well as that of Samajwadi Party for President, sources said Mulayam Singh Yadav will take a final view only after consulting his senior party colleagues. Sources said Yadav is likely to discuss with senior party leaders of his party the Presidential elections and the candidate of Samajwadi party. "Only after consulting senior leaders will Yadav decide who should be the Samajwadi Party candidate. There is no final word on it yet from SP," a party leader said.
TMC, however, insisted there are no differences and Kalam is the preferred choice of both Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mamata Banerjee. Banerjee had even gone to the extent of saying there is no question of backing out from this stand. She maintained a consensus should be built around Kalam's name as he is the best suited for the job. Asked if a consensus is elusive, Banerjee indicated TMC and SP would be ready for a contest in such a scenario.