West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress boss Mamata Banerjee today surprised newspersons in New Delhi by announcing that union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee was not being considered by the Indian National Congress as a choice for the next President of India.
"I think their party [the Congress] has already announced today that he is not [their candidate]," Banerjee said when asked whether Mukherjee was acceptable to her party as Presidential candidate.
The Trinamool Congress is an important constituent of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government. The normally factious Banerjee has already made headlines today by declaring that she would support a Congress-proposed candidate to replace President Pratibha Patil, whose term ends in June.
Banerjee's latest statement appears to end the media speculation that Mukherjee was a serious Congress-proposed Presidential candidate. The other name doing the rounds is Vice President Mohammad Khalid Ansari, who is also the ex-officio chairperson of the Rajya Sabha.
Recent reports suggest that other UPA constituents like the DMK as well as opposition parties will not support the position of the Bharatiya Janata Party, the main opposition, that a non-political person be chosen as President, the official face of India and the de jure commander-in-chief of the armed forces.
Banerjee's comments came shortly after Congress spokesperson Renuka Choudhary said Muherjee was ''too valuable" to be spared.
"I cannot say anything. The Congress party has already announced their opinion... He belongs to the Congress party. The party will decide. I respect all political parties. I know my limitations. I don't cross limits," she told NDTV. ''I don't want to interfere."
Banerjee is in a meeting with Congress and UPA president Sonia Gandhi on the Presidential election, according to current reports.