Presidential election: Race for Raisina
The rather mild and, arguably, the ablest troubleshooter in the Congress fosters an ambition that is no longer a secret. The demure man from Bengal, Pranab Mukhrejee, known for his diplomatic and discreet answers on contentious chords, is willing to bite the bait directly when it comes to the Rashtrapati Bhavan throne.
Not so long ago, he had told a magazine in keen earnest, “I am comfortable at the height destiny has placed me.” But then, when was politics about hallowed words? Pronouncements such as these are not commandments etched in stone. To be believed for all times to come.
Politics is the art of reinvention and naked ambitions. Aspirations hidden deep in a politico’s breast are like rubber rafts. The more you suppress them; they bounce out with only greater vigour.
So, in 2012, Pranab da – our battered Finance Minister – thought of the best retirement plan. “I love to read and love to take walks in large gardens.” Wink, wink. Now, which residence provides a better library or well-watered greens than the Raisina palace? Surely, the Jaypee Greens is not what Mukherjee was referring to, for we know he plays no golf!
For a man who has spent a lifetime waiting to get his hands on the coveted prime ministerial trophy, which destiny painfully put in the hands of his erstwhile lieutenant, the post of President doesn’t make for such a poor consolation prize, after all.
And Sonia seems to have complied with his not-so-cryptic wishes. At least that’s what we found out from Mamata didi, who notoriously exposed Congress’ closely held intentions.
But then, when is Mamata’s any trip to Delhi ever complete without a tumult? Surely, more was to come.
Sonia Gandhi was utterly outdone. Mamata and Mulayam seemed to have poured cold water over Pranab’s ambitions and those of Hamid Ansari. They came out with three new names of undisputable reputation – APJ Abdul Kalam, Manmohan Singh and Somnath Chaterjee.
Outplaying the Congress card completely, the duo covered all corners. First, all three have credibility. Besides, Kalam helps Mulayam appease the Muslim votebank, and Mamata assuaged her home constituency for not backing a ‘Bengali’ Pranab by recommending Somnath.
Naming Dr Manmohan Singh was not a serious proposition. It was more a way of expressing a vote of no-confidence on his performance as a Prime Minister; taking a dig at him and his party.
Congress has eventually triumphed, by engineering a crack in the Mulayam and Mamata combine and getting Samajwadi Party to enlist support for Pranab. In this scenario, Kalam would not opt to be a part of the race putting an end to the brinkmanship that was on display for the past few days.
But the run up to this dramatis has been more comical.
Earlier a lone joker, Mr PA Sangma, who wears patriotism on his sleeve, forgot his walkout from the Congress over the foreign origin issue of Madame Gandhi. He was ‘willing to forget’ if he was backed as a presidential candidate, but the phoenix at 10, Janpath was not ‘willing to forgive’.
I had thought Sangma was a not-so-intelligent man, but one with his heart in the right place. It figures, like most of his breed in the murky world of politics, his heart beats only for himself. On the not-so-intelligent assumption, I was right. If you had heard him argue his case, you would know why.
Sangma claimed Pranab Mukherjee was overqualified to be the President! Can anyone ever be ‘overqualified’ to be India’s first citizen!!
Or possibly, his benchmark was the incumbent - our first female president by default.
A second, equally vacuous argument he forwarded, was related with his additional qualification of being a Scheduled Tribe. According to him, the lot of STs would improve, if he ascended the political Everest.
If that was the case, Sachar committee would not paint such a morbid picture about the lot of the Muslims despite APJ Abdul Kalam having been President. Or despite Zakir Hussain or Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed.
Ambitions to occupy the best piece of real estate in India are not new.
Nehru is believed to have wanted C Rajagopalachari as the first President, but had to settle with Rajendra Prasad, who completed two tenures. Then, to pre-empt a move by Prasad to seek a third term, Nehru proposed a constitutional amendment to restrict the President’s terms to a maximum of two. The cerebral Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, who had been a mewling president-in-waiting, was finally elevated, and thus placated.
Later in 1969, there was the bitter battle fought between VV Giri and Neelam Sanjiva Reddy. Giri succeeded due to the backing of Indira Gandhi, who didn’t mind truncating the Congress in the process.
While run up to a presidential elections
, or selection, can be more than interesting compared to the job profile of the rubber stamps that most tend to be, it is not just in India that these intriguing calculations are made.
In the United States, when Lyndon Johnson was asked why he had agreed to be the running mate (as Vice President) for Kennedy despite such dislike for him, he is believed to have once confessed that ten Vice Presidents had succeeded to the presidency till 1960, and sitting U.S. Presidents often died in office!
As per Johnson’s calculations, taking into account historical occurrences, the chances of a Vice President succeeding to the presidency due to a President's death were about one out of five!!
Now, that sort of cold-blooded logic makes Indian mind games look like a school-time jigsaw!