New Delhi: President Pratibha Devisingh Patil's term comes to an end on July 25 and the race for her successor is heating up. While the two major national parties, the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), are yet to reveal their candidates for the next occupant of the Rashtrapati Bhawan, former Lok Sabha speaker and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader PA Sangma has thrown in his hat in the ring.
Two powerful regional leaders " Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik of the Biju Janata Dal and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa of the AIADMK - who could play a very crucial role in the formation of the next government at the Centre, have come out strongly in support of Sangma. The NCP leader has projected himself as a tribal, Christian candidate from the North East to garner support.
But Sangma's path to the Rashtrapati Bhawan is not easy with his own party, the NCP, not too keen on supporting him and the party supreme even pulled him up for naming him as one of the contenders. The NCP has made it clear that it will abide by the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance's decision.
Congress President Sonia Gandhi dealt a massive blow to Sangma on Tuesday as she refused to give him an appointment. The Sonia snub has almost ruled him out of the race unless he manages to convince the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance to back him.
Sangma has also sought appointments with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee to press for a tribal candidate for the post of the President. But after the Sonia meeting fiasco he is unlikely to make much headway.
Moreover, the task of convincing the NDA is going to be a Herculean task as the NCP is a constituent of the UPA and in direct confrontation with the BJP-Shiv Sena combine in its stronghold of Maharashtra.
UPA's key ally DMK has said that it would support the candidate put up by the ruling alliance in the Presidential election and even though Patnaik and Jayalalithaa have appealed to all the political parties to back the tribal leader, the race is only getting tougher for him, particularly after Sonia's snub.
Even West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee has said that Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar, West Bengal Governor Gopal Gandhi and former President APJ Abdul Kalam were acceptable candidates to her. With Mamata not mentioning Sangma, it is clear that he is not even on the radar of the TMC as the Presidential poll approaches.
While Sangma has maintained that he is a serious candidate for the President's post, the arithmetic is loaded against him. But Sangma has realised that without the support of his own party, his race could end prematurely.
"There is no going back. I will not let madam Jayalalithaa and Naveen Patnaik down, which would mean that if necessary I would contest as an Independent," Sangma said.
Till now only the BJD and the AIADMK have come out in his support and even though these two parties are in power in Odisha and Tamil Nadu respectively, their support would mean nothing if the UPA and the NDA refused to back him.
While the BJP top brass discussed Sangma's candidature for the President's post at a meeting on Monday, the party will to take the final decision only after consultations with the other NDA partners and may even reach out to some UPA constituents. Jayalalithaa has already spoken to senior BJP leader LK Advani, seeking his support for Sangma.
She has also spoken to Samajwadi Party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav and other non-Congress leaders, including Left parties, to enlist support for the NCP leader.
Sangma, too, met Communist Party of India leader D Raja on Monday seeking Left parties' support in the July elections to the top post. Raja said Sangma met him and handed over a letter signed by tribal MPs who are canvassing for a tribal leader to be elected as President.
The BSP, while indicating that it would not be aligning itself with any Third Front in the President's election, sounded dismissive about Sangma's candidature.
"I am hearing about Sangma from you only or through the newspapers. But there is no clarity. So what can I say," was her response when asked whether her party would support the tribal leader's candidature.
Time is clearly running out for Sangma and unless the political equations change rapidly in the next few days, he can very well say goodbye to his presidential ambitions.