The last presidential campaign was a cakewalk for the Congress with all parties supporting Pratibha Patil whole-heartedly, including regional party Shiv Sena. However, this time, the race to Raisina Hill has given Congress leaders sleepless nights. And the reason for their woes is that a regional party such as Trinamool Congress has challenged the leadership of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) by announcing three names without any consultation with the alliance.

The party led by firebrand West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee has also won over the Samajwadi Party, and put forward three names with ex- President APJ Abdul Kalam as its first choice, followed by PM Dr Mamohan Singh and CPM stalwart Somnath Chatterjee. Mamata has managed to kill many birds with one stone.

Firstly, by proposing Kalam’s name she has managed to silence the BJP, which played an instrumental role during the NDA regime to install the renowned scientist in the coveted chair. Secondly, she has successfully convinced SP, which is riding on a popularity wave, with ominous signs of its role in forming the next government after 2014 general elections. And finally, she has also silenced the communists, her sworn political foes, by proposing Chatterjee’s name.

The Congress will now have to think several times before countering the move made by the TMC chief. Another important aspect that the Congress cannot ignore is the role played by NCP chief Sharad Pawar. It’s no longer a secret that the union agriculture minister enjoys a good rapport with the Samajwadi Party these days. The political equations are fast changing and they could catch the Congress and its close allies by surprise in the future. Pawar had mentioned earlier that the next President should be a non-political figure. And by that logic Kalam fits the bill.
The party has not disclosed its official candidate except sharing it with Mamata, who is not keen on electing Pranab Mukherjee for the coveted post.

She may be wary of the outcome of making the union finance minister the next President mainly due to a fear that the Congress unit in Bengal may use it to strengthen its position in the state. Indeed, never before has the choice of a President seen such a tug-of-war among allies.