The Presidential race is gaining momentum with political parties trying to outwit each other even as the deadline for filing nominations for the July election draws near. The Congress, the main party in the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), is holding consultations with allies, support groups and others to reach a consensus. The BJP-headed National Democratic Alliance (NDA) is also exploring options on how to garner support for its candidate in the event of a contest. The political class appears to be of the view that the best choice would be to get both the President and Vice-President (the election is due in August) elected unopposed. But in politics, the best option is not the one that is necessarily exercised; other options propelled by circumstances often take precedence.
It is clear that as far as the President’s post is concerned, the present incumbent is unlikely to get a second term. The ongoing debate now is on whether a politician or a non-politician should hold the top post. Personally speaking, a person with a political background should get preference. On this score, most political parties whose representatives in the legislatures and Parliament constitute the electoral college would want one among them to get the coveted job. After all, the President has constitutional duties to perform and experience in public life will come handy while taking decisions; more so now since coalition politics demands that certain matters are examined both politically and constitutionally and the final decision of the incumbent must be correct on both the counts. The ideal choice for the President must be an eminent Indian with a political background. Fortunately, in a vibrant democracy like ours there is no dearth of people who fit this category.
The CPI(M) has made it known that it wants a person with a political background as the next President. The party was also the first to shoot from the hip when it indicated that if someone like Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee was to be the Congress’ and UPA’s choice, they would back him. This resulted in a controversy as supporters and detractors of the senior leader started discussing the pros and cons of having him as the official candidate.
But what most failed to see was that by floating Mukherjee’s name, the CPI(M) leadership made it clear that none from the party was being considered for the position. The matter assumes significance since the names of two senior Left leaders — former Bengal Chief Minister Jyoti Basu and Lok Sabha speaker Somnath Chatterjee — were doing the rounds. There is no denying that Mukherjee is an excellent choice for the post given his experience and background. But embarrassed by the CPI(M)’s suggestion, he tried to distance himself from the controversy by saying that only the Congress has the final say on such matters. There is also an intense speculation on whether UP chief minister Mayawati would play the kingmaker. Though the shrewd BSP supremo is yet to reveal her cards, political pundits feel that she may want to have a Brahmin as the President to further consolidate her position among the upper castes in the state. Many other names are doing the rounds including that of the former UP and Uttarakhand Chief Minister, ND Tewari. However, his candidature will depend on many other factors.
Former Union Minister Karan Singh is also an excellent choice for the position but his candidacy is subject to whether his name emerges from within the Congress. A certain section in the Congress feels that in order to balance Mayawati’s influence, Union Power Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde may be the ideal choice. In any case, Shinde is definite to play a bigger role in the Congress’ scheme of things in the near future. Home Minister Shivraj Patil, who performed very well as the Lok Sabha Speaker in the previous Congress government, is also a potential candidate. His name can even get the opposition’s nod thanks to his good inter-personal relations.
The BJP appears to be bent on pushing the name of Vice-President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat who has support cutting across party lines. He would be a formidable candidate in the event of a contest and could upset many calculations. But he will be eliminated from the race in the event of a consensus. Some leaders within the NDA had also suggested former PM AB Vajpayee’s name, but it had more to do with the party’s internal politics; some BJP leaders probably wanted to send him the message that he should stop aspiring for the party’s leadership in the next Lok Sabha polls.
There is also a section that believes that PM Manmohan Singh will be the best choice because he is popular with civil society, politicians and intellectuals. But the main question is why should the ruling coalition risk its government while looking for a new President, and if Singh is the final choice, then who would be the PM? As things stand now, the suggestion appears a little far-fetched.
With the presidential race entering a decisive phase, many more names have come up. These include eminent Indians from other walks of life like former Chief Justice RS Pathak, agricultural scientist MS Swaminathan and West Bengal Governor Gopal Krishna Gandhi. Whatever is the final result, one thing is certain: the next President will be an eminent Indian. Between us.