New Delhi: Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mamata Banerjee appear to be holding the key to the election of the next President amid indications that Congress will initiate formal talks with parties on the issue in a fortnight.
UPA as well as NDA leaders say that anybody who has the support of two of the three non-Congress leaders Mulayam, Mamata and Mayawati can have the next President of his choice to succeed incumbent Pratibha Patil, who is retiring on July 25.
While Congress chief Sonia Gandhi held some preliminary talks with NCP chief Sharad Pawar on the crucial issue, the talk in the ruling alliance is that the formal discussions would gain momentum after May 10.
Government's first priority appears to be to get the Union Budget 2012-13 passed and has set May 8 as the date for the passage of the Finance Bill.
Vice President Hamid Ansari and Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee are among the names doing rounds in the ruling party circles.
The BJP has given signals that it would like a non-Congressman and especially a non-Sonia Gandhi loyalist for the top post, hinting that its fight was for the post of the Prime Minister in 2014.
Mulayam's party has not zeroed in on any name so far. Ansari hails from Uttar Pradesh and had also been the Vice Chancellor of the Aligarh Muslim University.
In an interesting development, Gopalakrishna Gandhi yesterday met Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik in Bhubhaneswar, fuelling speculation that the visit was linked to Presidential polls.
RJD chief Lalu Prasad is pitching for Vice President Hamid Ansari while other parties kept the cards close to their chest.
Gandhi's visit was significant as it came a day after media reports on certain non-UPA and non-NDA parties planning to support Kalam for the Presidential polls.
Ansari had also met the chief minister here recently. Patnaik is yet to make his stand known about who his party would support for the post of the President and Vice-President.
Ansari has got support from RJD chief Lalu Prasad who said his party would support the Vice President as the Presidential candidate.
"Our Vice President Hamid Ansari should be made the President. He is a good candidate for the President's post. He should be upgraded as the President," Prasad said on Tuesday.
Sources said that the Congress leadership will also be consulting DMK chief M Karunanidhi on the issue any time next week.
A senior Congress functionary, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that consultations on the issue were a natural course of action to decide a name for the country's top job. Obviously the allies will be the first to be consulted, he said.
The meeting between Pawar and Gandhi lasted half-an-hour. "We want a name with consensus," NCP General Secretary D P Tripathi said when asked about NCP's preference for the next President.
"The President's post is the top post in the country. It is necessary to maintain its dignity," he said. Key UPA ally Trinamool Congress today maintained that it would decide on a Presidential nominee only after the date for the election to the top post is announced. Railway Minister Mukul Roy said it would be too premature to decide on a candidate now.