Who will be India's next President?
New Delhi: With less than three months to go before President Pratibha Patil's term ends, a slew of possible successors are doing the rounds. But with the ruling Congress doing poorly in recent state elections, regional parties may hold the key to selecting the nation's 13th president.
Among these names, Sam Pitroda, seems to have generated most traction.
While there has been some print media attention to Pitroda emerging as the "dark horse" in the presidential race, he seems to be exciting the web world more. On April 4, for instance, Pitroda was number 4 most trending on Twitter.
His name has been circulating among the movers and shakers in major metros but the first clear sign came in a piece written by an industrialist in a major newspaper.
Although the piece on April 2 mentioned several other potential candidates for the office of President, Harsh Goenka said, "I would like to end with a wild card entry, which is a radical option of considerable merit - Sam Pitroda. Rajiv Gandhi's poster-boy for reforms, he quietly revolutionized the telecom sector, paving the way for subscriber trunk dialling, public call booths and nationwide networks."
Goenka also said, "This man of ideas will be in keeping with our image of a modern, tech-savvy nation on the rise."
"If I had to place my bets, I'd predict a photo finish between (Vice-President) Hamid Ansari and Sam Pitroda," Goenka said.
Pitroda himself has made no specific public comment on the sudden upsurge in his favour, particularly in business and technology circles. He has been known to say that he is focused entirely on his current assignment as advisor to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on public information infrastructure and innovation.
Apart from that, Pitroda is closely involved with at least half a dozen major, long-term national projects whose transformational potential is said to go well beyond the telecom revolution. They include the National Knowledge Network, Panchayati Network, cyber security, broadband expansion among others which altogether represent an outlay of nearly Rs 100,000 crores.
The web is also witnessing some impromptu sites as PitrodaForPresident on YouTube which has a collection of videos under titles such as "Pitroda the Technologist", "Pitroda the Reformer" and "Pitroda the Innovator." It is unclear who is behind this site, which was set up on April 5 by a 28-year-old in India.
But Pitroda is not alone in this presidential stakes.
Apart from Ansari, the names being talked about in political circles are those of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, former West Bengal governor Gopal Krishna Gandhi, senior Congress leader Karan Singh, former president APJ Abdul Kalam, former speaker Somnath Chatterjee, Chief Election Commissioner SY Quraishi, Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, Janata Dal (United) President Sharad Yadav and Nationalist Congress party leader PA Sangma.
Ansari, a career diplomat, who for sometime had been the most obvious choice, seems to have lost some of his clout after his infamous adjournment of the Rajya Sabha during the Lokpal debate that earned him the opposition ire.
Congress President Sonia Gandhi has always insisted that there is no question of replacing Manmohan Singh as Prime Minister, while Pranab Mukherjee is seen as the principal trouble shooter for the party. As regards Meira Kumar, she may be a popular choice, but after a woman president it will be difficult for the Congress to pitch for another woman candidate.
There is also a view that Defence Minister AK Antony, a Gandhi family loyalist, should be named as the country's next president as so far there have been a Hindu, Muslim and a Sikh president but not a Christian as the head of state. But the perceived mishandling of the army chief controversy has put a cloud over his candidature.
The name of Sangma, a Roman Catholic, is also doing the rounds, but he is again not a popular choice, especially in the Congress circles.
But what has further created a stir in political circles is the cosying up of Trinamool Congress chief and Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh on the presidential polls. Kalam's name has been apparently suggested by both, but the Congress is not in favour of the former president, who is now 80, being sent to Rashtrapati Bhavan again.
The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government holds 40 percent of the votes and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) holds 30 percent in the electoral college that consists of members of parliament and the state legislatures. But the Congress is keeping its card close to its chest.
But as Goenka said in his article that it is time "parties invested their effort into selecting a candidate based on competence rather than extraneous considerations." This is yet to be seen.