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New Delhi: On a day of hectic political parleys, the Congress president Sonia Gandhi moved to consolidate support for the candidate of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) for the presidential election on 19 July.

The Congress’ final decision is expected to be announced on Friday after the meeting of the UPA leaders.

A day after two of its friendly allies surprisingly threw up the names of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, former president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam and former Lok Sabha speaker Somnath Chatterjee, the ruling party clarified that it would not accept any of them.

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Mint’s Appu Esthose Suresh say, a day after allies came up with three names, including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for the President. Ruling party UPA declined them.

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West Bengal chief minister and Trinamool Congress (TMC) leader Mamata Banerjee and Samajwadi Party (SP) chief Mulayam Singh Yadav jointly announced the three names on Wednesday minutes after the former met Gandhi. After meeting Gandhi, Banerjee told the media that Gandhi had proposed the names of both finance minister Pranab Mukherjee and vice-president Hamid Ansari.

But Dwivedi denied that these names were the Congress choices. “Sonia Gandhi is in the process of consulting even single-member parties and in the course of it two names have come up. If Congress had decided on the name, two names would not have come up," he said.

With the game open for the final round of the presidential race, Gandhi had a hectic day of consultations with her own senior leaders as well as allies. Both the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), whose leaders met the Congress president, volunteered their full support to the UPA’s candidate. Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Lalu Prasad also announced unconditional support to the UPA in the presidential race.

Banerjee’s disclosure of the names has irked a section of Congress leaders who termed the move as a “betrayal", triggering a fresh standoff between the Congress and the TMC. While Congress leaders criticized Banerjee, the West Bengal chief minister maintained that she divulged the names with the permission of Gandhi.

Betraying the tension between the two, Banerjee, who was on her way to meet Mulayam Singh for the second day, cautioned that she would not give in to “threats". She was referring to the West Bengal state Congress’ remarks that the party would withdraw its ministers from the state government because of her refusal to back Mukherjee.

“I don’t want to leave the UPA. If the UPA doesn’t want me, the ball is in the Congress court," Banerjee said, adding that she would not go back on the “combined" choices of TMC and SP. “Who can say no to Kalam?" she asked.

The top leaders of the Congress met in the evening to discuss the situation. According to one person familiar with the developments, Congress leaders have expressed their anger over Banerjee’s continuing anti-UPA diatribe and revolt. The TMC has stalled several reform initiatives of the UPA including the anti-graft Lokpal Bill, foreign direct investment in multi-brand retail and the Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority Bill.

“Mamata Banerjee is trying to break the UPA because she is keen to go for an early election. However, it may not be the same in the SP’s agenda. The saving grace for the Congress is that no other party is in a position to face election as of now," said a Congress leader who did not want to be named.

The SP’s role is crucial in this political game as it holds 6.2% votes in the electoral college of Parliamentarians and legislators of all state assemblies. Mulayam Singh Yadav, seen as getting cosier with the Congress after coming to power with a landslide majority in Uttar Pradesh, is likely to agree to the ruling alliance’s choice, the same leader added.

Interestingly, the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which has floated Kalam’s name, continued to be silent over its choice. Political observers said the party is currently confused about its strategy and is wary of its allies’ reactions. The BJP, which is awaiting the Congress’ final decision, has convened a meeting of National Democratic Alliance (NDA) leaders on Friday.

Appu Esthose Suresh and Anuja contributed to this story.

liz.m@livemint.com

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