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Pranab all set for Rashtrapati Bhavan (Roundup)

New Delhi, June 16 - Pranab Mukherjee appeared set to enter Rashtrapati Bhavan as the BJP remained undecided over the issue and even sections of the party-led National Democratic Alliance favoured the union finance minister Saturday considering his political stature and popularity.

Adding to the unfolding political drama, P.A. Sangma continued to defy his Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) to contest against Mukherjee, even though party chief Sharad Pawar said he will try to convince him and hoped Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee will reconsider her stance against the UPA nominee.

In a surprise move, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Ram Jethmalani said he might also contest against Mukherjee.

"I might contest presidential election. I will decide in the two or three days," the BJP Rajya Sabha member told IANS.

His sudden announcement came after murmurs of support for the UPA candidate from key NDA constituents Janata Dal-United and to some extent, Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD).

The BJP, which is yet to make up its mind on supporting Mukherjee even after a three-hour meeting, finds itself in a quandary.

According to sources, the party discussed whether to support Mukherjee or to back Sangma, who enjoys the support of two chief ministers - AIADMK's J. Jayalalitha and Biju Janata Dal's Naveen Patnaik.

Sources said the party wants to tread with caution as it does not want to displease either AIADMK or BJD as it will help build bridges with them during the 2014 general elections.

On the other hand, the BJP fears an uneasy relationship with JD-U and SAD if it doesn't support Mukherjee.

JD-U leader Shivanand Tiwari was the first one to express support for Mukherjee.

"A senior and respected leader like Pranab Mukherjee, who is going to retire (from active politics), should be given a graceful sendoff," Tiwari told reporters in Patna, adding that it was his personal view.

He also said that Mukherjee enjoys the backing of Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party (BJP), whose support will take the United Progressive Alliance's (UPA) strength in the electoral college to 47.6 percent.

JD-U chief Sharad Yadav was quick to point out that NDA will meet Sunday and decide its stand on the presidential poll. He also added that Tiwari was airing his personal view.

JD-U is the second largest partner in the NDA and the party shares power in Bihar with the BJP.

Making it tough for the BJP to take a decision, the BJD also came out in open support of Sangma Saturday.

"As of now there is no change in our decision on the presidential poll. BJD sticks to its support for Sangma, a prominent tribal leader. We are determined to back Sangma," senior leader and BJD parliamentary party leader Arjun Sethi told reporters in Bhubaneswar.

But the NCP, which is part of UPA and had endorsed Mukherjee's candidature, is hoping to reason with Sangma. NCP leader and Heavy Industries Minister Praful Patel indicated that the party could expel Sangma, if he went ahead to contest.

NCP is holding a meet on this matter next Thursday

The BJP had earlier favoured A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. But the former president may not contest, despite Mamata Banerjee insisting that her Trinamool Congress will support him.

The BJD (3.3 percent) and AIADMK (2.8 percent) together make only 6.1 percent of total votes in the electoral college. If NDA backs Sangma, the total will be 33.8 percent.

Even if Sangma decides to contest the presidential poll, Mukherjee is set to sail through with a total vote share of 48 percent on his side.

The Left parties, which were among the first to extend support to Mukherjee, will meet next Thursday to take a final call in the matter.

Considering that Mukherjee enjoys a very good relationship with the Left and had called senior Communist leaders for support after Trinamool Congress chief had nixed his candidature, the Left may like to favour him.

A cornered Trinamool challenged the Congress Saturday, with West Bengal minister Firhad Hakim saying the Congress could leave the state government if it wanted.

Banerjee constinues to pitch for Kalam. In her Facbook account, opened Saturday, she again backed the former president, saying he "enjoys support of millions".


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