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Presidential poll: Mamata meets Sonia as Congress seeks UPA consensus


New Delhi: Congress president Sonia Gandhi met Trinamool supremo and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee Thursday as part of the Congress’s efforts to build consensus with its United Progressive Alliance partners on the coming presidential polls.

Though Banerjee termed the meeting a “courtesy call”, the two are believed to have discussed the presidential polls.

Banerjee told reporters after coming out of the 10 Janpath residence of Gandhi that she had come to enquire about the health of the Congress president.

Asked if Trinamool Congress would support Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee or Vice President Hamid Ansari if they are chosen as Congress candidates, Banerjee joked: “I am the candidate.”

Trinamool Congress sources said Banerjee also met Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav and Ahmed Patel, political secretary to the Congress president.

“She had one-to-one meeting with Mulayam Singh,” a party leader said.

The two are believed to have discussed the presidential polls and their stance on supporting the Congress candidate.

Urban Development Minister Kamal Nath had met Banerjee Wednesday and indicated she will back the Congress nominee in the presidential polls.

“I’m sure when Mamata meets the prime minister and Sonia Gandhi, there will be convergence,” Kamal Nath told reporters after the meeting.

Trinamool Congress leaders indicated that the party would state its stance on the presidential election once the Congress makes up its mind on its candidate.

“Let them declare the candidate,” a Trinamool Congress leader told IANS.

He said the party believed that the best scenario would be a consensus candidate.

Earlier in the day, Banerjee met External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna and discussed US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s upcoming visit to Kolkata.

Clinton will be flying in to Kolkata May 7 after meeting the Bangladesh leadership in Dhaka and is scheduled to meet Banerjee and state Governor M.K. Narayanan.

Sources said Clinton may raise the issue of FDI in multi-brand retail with Banerjee, a measure the Trinamool Congress is opposed to.

Banerjee was expected to meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Wednesday regarding her demand for a three-year moratorium on interest payment by the state but the meeting was postponed.

Banerjee had last month issued a 15-day ultimatum to the central government to accept her demand.

Congress sources said the forthcoming presidential polls may also figure during Banerjee’s meeting with the prime minister.

Names of Ansari and Mukherjee have been mentioned in Congress circles as possible candidates in presidential polls.

Trinamool Congress leaders had earlier in the day referred to Congress spokesperson Renuka Chowdhury’s remarks about indispensability of Mukherjee to the government and indicated that he may not be fielded by the Congress.

Chowdhury had said it will never be easy to leave Mukherjee as he was a valuable person in the party, but added she had no authority to say if Mukherjee’s name was being discussed as a presidential candidate.

As her remarks created a flutter, Chowdhury clarified that decisions about presidential candidates were not taken at her level.

The Congress also tried to downplay her remark.

“Renuka is a responsible spokesperson… Pranab Mukherjee is indispensable not only for the government but for the party and parliament… But finally a choice would have to be made by the UPA on the next presidential candidate,” said party spokesperson Rashid Alvi.

The Congress has already held consultations with Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar and DMK chief M. Karunanidhi on the presidential polls.