New Delhi: More UPA allies on Friday favoured Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee as candidate for Presidentship while key constituent Trinamool Congress kept the Congress guessing appearing to link the issue to a financial package for West Bengal.

The BJP also struck a different note saying a consensus choice will be ideal, contradicting Sushma Swaraj's strident note in favour of a contest and opposing a Congress nominee.

Though no names are likely to be finalized any time soon, SP supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav made a significant statement saying the next President should not be on the basis of whether he belongs to backward, scheduled caste or minorities.

On his part, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, who appeared to be emerging as a front runner in the Presidential race on Friday dismissed media reports in this regard as speculation.

West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee, who has been demanding a debt moratorium for her state,  said, " Our options are all open. No names of candidates have come up so far. There is time. This is only first week of May. The election is in July. Two months time is left. If there is any talk, they will let us know and we will give them our opinion," she said.

To a pointed question about Mukherjee, who could be the first Bengali to become President, she said," I am supporting myself." Banerjee, who met Congress President Sonia Gandhi on Thursday and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told reporters that no names has been discussed so far with her party. "This is only first week of May. Let them make up their mind and come for discussion," she said.

Asked about the future course of action to be taken by her on the issue of debt moratorium, Bannerjee said "I will do politically whatever is possible for my state."    When pointed out that there was a problem in granting moratorium on loan repayment, Banerjee said, "what is digestible to me is not digestible to the Finance Minister.... Whatever will be done, I will wait for few days." She had yesterday had an hour-long meeting with Yadav at his residence.

UPA ally Ajit Singh said," There is no doubt about Pranab Mukherjee's abilities and the fact that he deserves this post. There are no two ways about it. Everyone is in favour of it." Echoing similar views, sources in NCP also said that they prefer Mukherjee. "Pranab Mukherjee suits us more," a NCP leader said on condition of anonymity.

Sources in SP had also said that Mukherjee would be their liking as he is the "most apt" candidate for the job. Banerjee has already said that there will be a joint decision with the SP. An indication of the churning within the Congress over the issue was also given by senior party leader Satyavrat Chaturvedi.

"There is no problem at all. There are many talented persons in the party and there is no dearth of talent in the organisation," was his response when asked whether it was possible to spare Mukherjee, the party's chief troubleshooter, for the Presidency.

BJP, which earlier categorically rejected the names of both Mukherjee and Hamid Ansari, on Friday spoke a different language with party leader Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi saying there should be a consensus on the candidate.

Snubbing BJP leader Sushma Swaraj's earlier remarks against Ansari and Mukherjee NDA ally JD-U had gone on record praising the candidature of both on Thursday.

Naqvi on Thursday said there should be a consensus on the Presidential candidate which will enhance the dignity of Rashtrapati Bhawan adding "arriving at a consensus will be an ideal situation."

"There are no names. UPA should first announce names for Presidential candidate formally and then only we will discuss," was his refrain when asked whether BJP will support the Congress candidate.

The Left parties on Thursday met formally for the first time and had preliminary discussions on the issue. "It would be better if there is a wide agreement on a candidate for the post of President," a statement issued after the meeting said.

The parties decided to consult with other secular opposition parties before taking a final stand in the matter. Sources, however, indicated that SP's view for a political person for the President has the Left endorsement.

The Left parties have indicated that there are not averse to either Mukherjee or Ansari as a Presidential candidate. Ansari was their choice five years ago for Vice Presidentship. "President is essentially a political person. I do not think non-political persons are Presidents in any country," a senior party leader said. Asked about Mukherjee's candidature, he said, "We have not zeroed in on any particular name as of now. Do not try to impose any name on us."   


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