New Delhi, May 17 (IANS) Chief Ministers Naveen Patnaik of Orissa and J. Jayalalithaa of Tamil Nadu Thursday backed former Lok Sabha speaker Purno Sangma for the presidency, giving a new twist to an election in which the Congress and the BJP have not revealed their cards.
Sangma's pitch for a tribal candidate found support first from Biju Janata Dal (BJD) leader Patnaik and AIADMK's Jayalalitha, in a move which could see more regional leaders join hands with the two.
Sangma is, however, yet to get the support of his own Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). The Congress did not react Thursday to the BJP-AIADMK move while the BJP said it wanted to see the NCP's reaction.
Sangma is believed to have met BJP leaders Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj to elicit their support.
"We will support Sangma. He is the most appropriate candidate for the post," Patnaik said in Bhubaneswar.
Jayalalithaa issued a statement in Chennai backing Sangma, who quit the Congress in 1999 after accusing party president Sonia Gandhi of being a "foreigner".
Jayalalithaa said: "The AIADMK takes pride in supporting the candidature of Sangma."
She said in the past 60 years of the Indian republic, no tribal had held the top post. "Sangma not only belongs to a tribal community but is also eminently qualified to be the president of our great nation."
Both Patnaik, who recently visited Chennai, and Jayalalithaa said they had discussed the issue with one another.
Sangma said he was grateful to Patnaik and Jayalalithaa for being "very responsive to our tribal aspiration".
"I appeal to leaders of all other political parties to follow suit and support our cause," he told NDTV.
Sangma insisted that he represented India's tribal voice, and that tribal MPs from all political parties were with him.
Neither the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) nor the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) can get their nominee elected as president on their own strength.
The two names doing the rounds as possible Congress candidates are those of Vice President Hamid Ansari and Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee.
Although the Congress has been in talks with the NCP, Trinamool Congress and the DMK and informally even with the Left, it has not made up its mind.
The BJP, which does not want to support a Congress candidate, has said it will reveal its preferences only after talking to its allies.
Asked about Mukherjee's prospects, Sangma said: "He is a very highly qualified candidate for any post, even for prime minister. He should become the prime minister."
"But like him, there are so many others who are very qualified and so many others who have occupied the post. But this time the president should be from the tribal community."
Sangma's entry into the race is likely to provide parties in the UPA an opportunity to bargain hard with the Congress.
The presidential election, to elect a successor to Pratibha Patil, is due in July.