Congress president Sonia Gandhi had a hectic day of confabulations Thursday on the UPA's presidential choice -- meeting senior ministers, including top candidate Pranab Mukherjee, and party allies to find a way out after the Trinamool Congress and Samajwadi Party virtually rejected her choice of nominees.
Pranab Mukherjee had a one-on-one talk with the party boss, reportedly on the presidential race. Mukherjee's name and that of Vice President Hamid Ansari had been suggested by Sonia to Trinamool supreme Mamata Banerjee at a meeting Wednesday.
The Trinamool chief and Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav, who are allies of the UPA, had in a surprise announcement Wednesday evening proposed the names of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, former president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, and former Lok Sabha speaker Somnath Chatterjee.
After Pranab Mukerjee left Gandhi's residence, 10 Janpath, the next to meet her was Defence Minister A.K. Antony, her most-trusted party leader. She later also met Home Minister P. Chidambaram.
The meetings in the forenoon reportedly revolved around how the Congress needed to react to Banerjee's proposal and what should be the party's strategy for the presidential polls.
To ensure there is consensus among the UPA allies, Sonia Gandhi also met Baalu and Pawar in the afternoon.
Gandhi also chaired her party's core committee meeting, held at the prime minister's 7 Race Course Road residence in the evening.
The meeting, it is believed, will finalise the Congress's strategy ahead of a UPA meeting Friday, as well as its candidate for Rashtrapati Bhavan.
An announcement on the UPA's presidential candidate is expected only by Friday evening after the UPA meeting.
The Congress firmly rejected the Trinamool proposal of Manmohan Singh for president. "We cannot afford to spare Dr. Manmohan Singh. He will be prime minister till 2014," Congress media cell head Janardhan Trivedi told reporters, in a strong rejection of Banerjee's suggestion, adding that the other two names proposed by her too were "unacceptable" to the Congress.
The presidential polls will take place on July 19. But the filing of nominations for the elections will close on June 30.
With Manmohan Singh going out of the country June 16 for 10 days primarily to attend the G-20 summit in Mexico and returning only a day before the filing of nominations begin, a decision on the UPA's nominee for presidential polls needs to be taken soon.