New Delhi: The Presidential election contest hotted up on Thursday with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) announcing to back former Lok Sabha Speaker P A Sangma as their candidate for the Presidential election against Pranab Mukherjee, though their coalition group National Democratic Alliance (NDA) is divided on the issue.
"We have decided to back Mr P A Sangma. Both A P J Abdul Kalam whose name was proposed by Mamata Banerjee and Sangma were good, but Kalam decided not to contest," BJP senior leader Sushma Swaraj told reporters here at a press conference.
"Sangma is a tall leader and he is the tallest leader of the Northeast," said Swaraj.
Sangma a day ago has quit his party Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) to contest the Presidential poll since NCP refused to support his candidature and instead backed the Union Finance Minister (Pranab Mukherjee), the candidate of the Congress.
Soon after BJP named him, Sangma, who projected himself as the first tribal leader to throw the hat in the ring, addressed the media and said: "I am very much in the race."
"I am not a candidate of any single political party. My name has been sponsored by two powerful chief ministers of the country- Naveen Patnaik and J Jayalalithaa," he said.
He said he was grateful to both these tall leaders.
"Today I am very happy that BJP has decided to back my candidature," he said.
He said it is not only BJP but other allies like Akali Dal and other smaller parties which are also supporting him.
He also appealed to Shiv Sena and other parties like JD (U) to support him and said he would tour across the nation to persuade parties in both NDA and UPA to support him.
He said now that Kalam is out of the race he hoped that Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee would support to him.
"I am very hopeful that Mamata Banerjee will be with me," he said.
The BJP said they would not let the Prez poll go uncontested.
"We will not give the Congress a walkover," she said, adding that as a main Opposition party they would support Sangma, who is also backed by AIADMK of J Jayalalithaa and Biju Janata Dal (BJD) of Naveen Patnaik.
She said the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) consulted its ally Shiromani Akali Dal chief Prakash Singh Badal and decided back Sangma.
She said the UPA requested them to support their candidate Pranab Mukherjee but it was only after they decided on his name and so when the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called up L K Advani it was like informing him and not seeking his opinion.
"So we have decided on a contest," said Swaraj.
BJP leader Arun Jaitley said the idea of a contest is integral to democracy.
BJP also urged all the NDA groups to support Sangma.
Differences within the NDA on the issue is split wide open with Bihar Chief Minister and JD (U) leader Nitish Kumar announcing to support Pranab Mukherjee.
Shiv Sena has also earlier expressed support for Pranab Mukherjee.
However, Swaraj said the support for Sangma would not affect NDA since it comprised of mature political groups.
She said efforts are also on to bring Mamata Banerjee on board to support Sangma.