Vice-President Ansari? Congress hoping to win Mamata’s endorsement

New Delhi: The Congress has its mind set on fielding Hamid Ansari for the vice-president’s post as the UPA’s candidate and it seems to have enough numbers in support, despite the fact that estranged ally Mamata Banerjee is not on board for this election either. She is reportedly unhappy with Mr Ansari’s likely candidacy, much as she was with that of Pranab Mukherjee, the UPA’s candidate for President.

All Congress allies will meet on Saturday, July 14, to formally endorse Mr Ansari’s candidacy and his name is expected to be announced after the meeting; Mamata Banerjee, as she is wont to be in recent times, will be missing, sources say, since she is unlikely to get her way on this. She has, however, agreed to send along Railway minister Mukul Roy as a representative after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh phoned her to request her attendance.

The Trinamool Congress’s stand on Mr Ansari is likely to become clear after Saturday’s meeting, but, sources say, the party is most likely to abstain in both the presidential and vice-presidential elections to make its disappointment clear.

The election for vice-president will be held in August. Even without Ms Banerjee, the Congress and its allies have 444 MPs, much more than the 396 votes they need to get Mr Ansari a second term. Stacked against Mr Ansari are the votes of 236 MPs – those of the BJP-led NDA, without the Janata Dal(United), the AIADMK, the Shiv Sena and the BJD.

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar of the Janata Dal(United), who is close to Mr Ansari, told NDTV today that his party had not decided yet whether it would support a second consecutive term for the vice-president. A final decision, he said, would be taken after a meeting of the NDA, of which the JD(U) is a part.

Mr Kumar, sources say, is keen on backing Mr Ansari. His party has already said it will vote differently from the rest of the NDA allies for the Presidential elections – the BJP-led coalition is backing Purno Sangma against Mr Mukherjee. Mr Kumar’s insistence that his mind is not made up on the Ansari issue is seen as a diplomatic attempt to prove to the BJP that he is not bent upon causing more awkwardness and is open to dialogue. The delay in announcing his stand could also help him pressure the UPA to grant a large financial package for Bihar which he has been campaigning for aggressively.

Yesterday, Uttar Pradesh, which is ruled by the Samajwadi Party, which has pledged support to the Congress for the Presidential elections, recieved a Rs. 45,000 crore package from the Centre. Many have pointed to this happening so close to the Presidential polls. The SP is still being counted among the parties undecided on who to support for vice-president, but it will be difficult for the party to say no to a Muslim from Uttar Pradesh.

Ms Banerjee’s primary objection to Mr Ansari’s candidacy stems from the fact that five years ago, he was endorsed for vice-president by her political opponent, the Left. Ms Banerjee loathes being seen as on the same side as the Left.

Prakash Karat, who heads the CPI(M), today said that he has told the Prime Minister, who phoned him on Monday, “we would like to have a person who is not belonging to Congress party to be the Vice President and who has a distinguished background. Now it’s up to them to decide”. Sources say, the CPM is likely to ultimately back Hamid Ansari.

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