CHURUMURI POLL: Who will be next President?

After weeks and months of speculation, there is finally some official activity in the race for the next President of India.

The Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee says the UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi has revealed two preferences: finance minister Pranab Mukherjee as the first choice and vice president Hamid Ansari as the second. In turn, Mamata and Mulayam Singh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party have indicated their choices: prime minister Manmohan Singh, former Lok Sabha speaker Somnath Chatterjee, and former President A.P. J. Abdul Kalam.

The announcements turn the political applecart upside down.

Mulayam and Mamata have effectively snubbed Sonia, Manmohan and Pranab, thrown cold water over the overweaning ambitions of Pranab Mukherjee, cast a big question mark over Manmohan Singh continuance as PM and the longevity of UPA-II as an alliance and advanced the prospect of an early election.

So, which of the five names in the air could make it, should make it, to Rashtrapati Bhavan?

Or, all things considered, is this just kite-flying and could we see a totally dark horse (or mare) ride up Raisina Hill? And who could that be: Lok Sabha speaker Meira Kumar, Congresswomen Mohsina Kidwai or Margaret Alva? Or how about Sam Pitroda?