By Harihar Swarup
The BJP has lost the first round even as battle lines are being drawn for the Presidential elections; firstly by tactlessly floating the name of APJ Abdul Kalam for yet another term and, secondly, by doubting the credentials of the Vice-President Hamid Ansari to become the President. The leader of the opposition, Sushma Swaraj, has drawn flak all round for saying that Ansari does not have stature to be the Rashtrapati.
To doubt the stature of Ansari to become the President is both an insult to the office of the Vice-President and to its incumbent, a diplomat and a scholar, widely acknowledged as one of the finest. Evidently, the BJP has not done its ground work adequately before opening its cards. It became clear when other constituents of the NDA distanced themselves from Swaraj’s statement. President of the JD(U), Sharad Yadav, an important ally of the BJP, was quick to say that views of Swaraj are not those of NDA.
As the situation obtains now, the choice of the presidential candidate has narrowed down to Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Vice-President Hamid Ansari. Pranab is emerging as the front runner because Mamata has hinted support to him and Mulayam Singh wants a “political person” in the Rashtrapati Bhavan, implying he favoured Pranab to Hamid Ansari. Both Mamata and Mulayam have been acting in tandem. Two had a long meeting after Mamata’s 20-minute talk with Sonia Gandhi on May 3.
What appears to be going in favour of Pranab is that, if selected, he would be first Rashtrapati from West Bengal. That is, perhaps, the reason Mamata has indicated support to him. Even the Marxists will have no objection but to support the Finance Minister because of public sentiments in Bengal.
Sonia Gandhi’s worry is that if Pranab is moved to Rashtrapati Bhavan, who would do trouble shooting for the UPA-II. The Finance Minister has become indispensable in the current fragile situation because of his vast political and administrative experience. The Congress spokesperson, Renuka Chaudhary has, perhaps, unwittingly, stated the stark reality when, she stated that Pranab Babu was too “valued” a leader to the party and the government to be spared for the post of President. Another party spokesman, Rashid Alvi immediately did damage control and clarified that consultation process is on and no names have been finalized.
Pranab Babu’s tragedy is that despite qualification, he has always remained number two. It was so during Indira Gandhi’s time. When he asserted his right after her assassination, Rajiv Gandhi was preferred. So much so that Pranab left the Congress and formed a separate party which ultimately did not make much headway and he had to return to the parent party.
During the tenure of P V Narasimha Rao as Prime Minister, he remained number two. When the UPA government was formed, he staked his claim for the Prime Ministerial office but Sonia Gandhi and chose Dr. Manmohan Singh to head the government. During the UPA-II too, he remained on the same position though he was doing most of political and administrative work.
Now that the time has come to select a person for top post of the country, the general refrain is that Pranab should be given a chance. Though Sonia Gandhi has yet to decide on his candidature, general refrain is that she may have no option but to back Pranab because of preference of allies, Mamata and Mulayam in particular. Even though the BJP has said that it would oppose a UPA nominee, the fact remains that it is not averse to Pranab.
Both Mulayam and Mamata were in nostalgic mood when they recalled how APJ Abdul Kalam was selected as Presidential candidate in 2007. In informal chat with correspondents in the Central Hall of Parliament Mulayam Singh said that it was he and not the BJP who suggested Kalam’s name. “I casually, in lighter vein, suggested why not a scientist and Kalam, who was on the top those days, should be made the President?” The BJP accepted it. Since Kalam was a Muslim, even though he is much above Hindu-Muslim divide, Mulayam accepted missile man’s candidature. Now when the BJP floated his name for the second term, the Samajwadi Party Supremo rejected it outright Talking to newsmen next day at the same place, Mamata also went nostalgic. “Atal Behari Vajpayee, who was then the Prime Minister called me (Mamata) and told me even though Kalam has been chosen as Presidential candidate, we have to garner support of other parties for him”.
“I went from party to party, to leader to leader, including the Congress, asking support for Kalam. He was elected almost unanimously, barring symbolic opposition by Left parties who set up Lakshmi Saighal of Netaji Subhash Bose’s Indian National Army (INA)”, said Mamata. (IPA Service)