With the race to find a new resident for Rashtrapati Bhawan intensifying, veteran Congress politician Pranab Mukherjee’s prospect as the future president of India appears to be getting stronger with every passing day.
Though the picture is still not clear and there remains a lack of consensus among the political parties over a candidate suitable for the post and acceptable to all, <i>dada </i>, as he is affectionately known, has clearly become the hot favourite for the country's top job.
Moreover, the indications coming from the Congress-led UPA coalition partners further suggest that they will eventually back <i>dada’s</i> name for the prestigious office.
Mukherjee, who is known to have friends cutting across party lines, is closely followed by Vice-President Hamid Ansari, who too is a natural choice for the presidency.
But with the main opposition BJP rejecting both Mukherjee and Ansari’s candidature thus raising the possibility of a contest if no consensus is evolved on the issue, the Congress central leadership appears to be in a fix at the moment, and is yet to formally announce its candidate for the top job.
Significantly, BJP ally JD(U) has also come out in support of both Pranab and Ansari.
While UPA allies like the NCP, the DMK and the RLD appear to be not averse to Pranab, the stand of its key constituent Trinamool Congress-led by Mamata Banerjee is still not clear.
Considering that Congress badly needs TMC’s support in the Presidential election, the firebrand West Bengal Chief Minister is not likely to miss the golden opportunity and may bargain with the Centre for a 10-year tax moratorium for her state in lieu of support on the issue.
With massive support emerging for Pranab <i>Da</i>, it would be difficult for the ruling party to go back on his candidature now, as it indicated a few days back.
Pranab <i>da’s</i> own reputation as a distinguished parliamentarian, Congress’ biggest crisis manager, a man known for his no-nonsense attitude, intellect and a deep understanding of socio-economic and foreign affairs further makes him the perfect choice for the presidency.
Pranab <i>da</i> also happens to be one of the few leaders in today's fractious polity who is equally respected even by his arch-rivals. His name had come up in 2007 but Congress chief Sonia Gandhi - as per reports - then found him to be too useful to the executive governance.
The same excuse could be repeated this time also and the UPA chairperson could spring another surprise as she did by nominating Pratibha Devi Singh Patil for the president’s job in 2007.
In case the Congress decides not to spare Mukherjee for the constitutional post, Ansari’s chances of becoming UPA’s sponsored candidate can’t be ruled out in a contest not likely to be as one-sided as in 2007, when Pratibha Patil became President without much effort.
A career diplomat and erudite scholar, Ansari is seen as someone best suited for the post of President. Apolitical, and with an excellent non-partisan record – leaving apart the midnight drama over Lokpal - as Chairman of the Rajya Sabha, he could emerge as a consensus candidate across party lines.
However, Ansari, who is largely seen as an independent, may face some opposition from the Samajwadi Party (SP) with its president Mulayam Singh demanding that the Presidential candidate should be "political".
Mulayam’s SP may eventually prefer Pranab for the top job, but before that the party will surely weigh political considerations in backing a Muslim candidate in the form of Ansari.
Adding an interesting twist to the race for the Rashtrapati Bhawan, CPM - the most important constituent of the Left Front - recently announced that it is open to supporting the candidature of both Ansari and Mukherjee.
The Left backing for Ansari seems natural as the VP has secured support of many other leaders including vocal Lalu Yadav. Meanwhile, Left’s openness to Pranab is also an interesting development as it means that the Left Front is willing to bridge gaps with the Congress and it may approve anyone who is chosen by the ruling party as its nominee.
But whatever one says, sending Pranab to the Rashtrapati Bhavan will surely be a fitting end to a long and distinguished political journey that began over four decades ago. The 76-year-old leader also stands a chance because the UPA government has only two more years to go.
This is beyond doubt that the UPA government will miss the services, experience and expertise of Pranab <i>babu</i> as a crisis manager if he becomes the President, but this should also not be used as a ground for scuttling his claim for the top post.
If anything, pushing his candidature for the presidency will also spare Congress from criticism for not rewarding Pranab for his long and unquestionable service to the party.
In the final analysis, a lot will depend upon equations and alliances. Mayawati's BSP had supported the UPA candidate last time but did not vote with them on Lokpal Bill in the Lok Sabha.
Jayalalithaa's AIADMK, Samajwadi Party and TDP had tried to prop up APJ Abdul Kalam as their candidate last time but he did not agree, not sure of his chances of winning. This time also no consensus seems to emerging on the missile man’s name.
The BJP's call for a contest and its opposition to Mukherjee and Ansari has found no takers with the Left parties making it clear that they would not mind backing any of these candidates advocating ‘maximum consensus’.
For Pranab Mukherjee, who is too "valued" to the Congress party and the government to be spared for the president's post, this would probably be his last chance to serve the country as the head of the state before he actually takes retirement from active politics.
Barring few exceptions like APJ Abdul Kalam, most presidents have been mere stamp heads of the state and failed to bring any paradigm shift in the state of politics in the country. In such a scenario, Pranab <i>Da</i> comes across as an ideal candidate for the presidency.
For someone acquiring the highest constitutional post, the candidate should be above caste, religion and colour. His credentials should not be disputable in any manner with no stigma of corruption, favouritism and political vendetta to be able to maintain the constitutional sanctity of the post.