New Delhi: Taking everyone by surprise,West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Thursday said that Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee is not Congress’ Presidential candidate. Banerjee made the comments soon after Congress spokesperson suggested that Mukherjee is too "valued" to be spared.

"I think their party has already announced today that he is not the candidate," the Trinamool Congress chief told reporters when asked whether Mukherjee is acceptable as Presidential candidate.

"It is the Congress which will take decision on their Presidential candidate. I cannot speak on their behalf. I have certain limits," she said.

Banerjee, who would be meeting Congress President Sonia Gandhi on Wednesday regarding the Presidential election, said, "They (Congress) have their own choice. So I don't want to interfere."

Earlier, Congress spokesperson Renuka Chowdhury told reporters that "it will never be easy to leave Pranab da. He is such a valuable person for us in the party. His contribution to the party cannot be even measured. For him it will not seem to be fair...but he has such an active political mind. He is too involved and knows politics so well.

"So, well in a way if his name is doing the rounds, I have no authority to say that his name is also being discussed. If his candidature is being talked about, then he is very respected and valued guide for us."

Asked if she does not want to see Mukherjee as the President, she said: "I want to see him in many posts. I am personally a big fan of him."

As her remarks created a flutter in political circles, Renuka sought to clarify saying her remarks have been completely misunderstood and decisions about Presidential candidature are not taken at her level.

Choudhury said it was unfortunate that her "genuine admiration" for a senior leader of the party has been distorted.

She said she had categorically said she was personally a "great fan" of Mukherjee and wished him that he grows from strength to strength.

"That does not mean we are ruling out Pranab Mukherjee for Presidential election," she said, adding it is unfair to quote her remarks out of context.

"It (Presidential candidate) is not a decision that can be taken at my level," she said, clarifiying her remarks.

Congress banks on Mamata

The Congress is hoping for the support of the Trinamool Congress in the presidential polls when West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee meets party chief Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh later on Thursday.

Banerjee, also the Trinamool Congress chief, arrived here on Wednesday for talks with the UPA top leadership, during which the presidential elections will figure prominently.

"We are hoping for Trinamool's support," Congress sources said on Thursday.  "I'm sure when Mamata meets the Prime Minister and Sonia Gandhi, there will be convergence," Urban Development Minister Kamal Nath told reporters here Wednesday, indicating that Banerjee will back the UPA's choice of the presidential candidate.

Banerjee is understood to have conveyed to Nath that that it was up to Sonia Gandhi, the UPA chairperson, to decide on the coalition's candidate. In her meeting with Manmohan Singh, Banerjee is expected to discuss the issue of a three-year moratorium on annual interest payable on outstanding loans taken by her state.

Reliable sources said that her stand on the presidential polls will depend on whether she manages to win a moratorium for the debt-ridden state. The Congress is pitching for Vice President Hamid Ansari and Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee as probable UPA choices for the July presidential polls. The BJP has ruled out support for any of them.

The UPA has over 40 percent of the total votes in the electoral college while the NDA has less than 30 percent.  The Trinamool Congress has 48,000 votes - the highest among the Congress allies.


Latest news from India News Desk