The alacrity with which a section of the CPI-M leadership is flaunting its preference for External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee in the Rashtrapati Bhawan has raised eyebrows in certain political circles in New Delhi.
On Thursday, Politbureau member Sitaram Yechury’s comment “If the Congress and the UPA put up Mukherjee, we will support him” flew in the face of CPM general secretary Prakash Karat’s public stance that his party has not zeroed in on any name.
Speaking to the Hindustan Times from Chandigarh, Karat said: “The candidate should fulfill the requirements. As I said on Wednesday, names have not been finalised. Discusssions are still on.’’
On Mukherjee’s possible candidature, he said it was for the Congress to take a decision. "At this juncture, we cannot say whether we would be happy or unhappy with some name if it is proposed."
For his part, Congress spokesman Abhishek Singhvi underscored the sanctity of the election to the highest constitutional office: "The process of selection and election of the President is for the highest position. That process will not be in the media glare..."
Eventually, the Congress may field Mukherjee, a party heavyweight capable of defeating the NDA’s likely choice, Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, in the secret ballot that leaves ample scope for cross voting.
For the present, the West Bengal veteran, whose name will have to be endorsed by Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party, has got projected as the “CPI-M nominee” for the high constitutional office, remarked a senior Congress leader. He also drew attention to the possibility of Mayawati plugging for a UP Brahmin rather than one from Bengal.
Satish Misra, Rajya Sabha MP and a newly inducted minister in Mayawati’s cabinet, told HT that the BSP chief has not applied her mind yet to the Presidential polls. "She is busy with the election of the Assembly Speaker and will start looking at the issue after that," he said.
Congress sources said the question has been bounced off Mayawati but no discussions have happened. As for the Left parties, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi mentioned four names to them: Mukherjee, Sushil Kumar Shinde, Shivraj Patil and Karan Singh.
"At Wednesday’s meeting of Left parties, all names were discussed. There was no specific discussion on Mukherjee. But one can say the criterion put down by the Left fits him the most," a Left leader said.
The Left parties want a seasoned politician in the Rashtrapati Bhawan. He should have stature and an understanding of the Constitution and issues like the balance of power between the executive and the judiciary. The big question, however, is whether the Congress would spare Mukherjee, its man for all seasons and situations, for the Presidency?
“He (Mukherjee) heads so many GoMs, holds an important ministry, plays a key role within the Congress party and deals with the allies including the Left. Whether the Congress would be comfortable without the services of such an efficient team-man and political manager, remains to be seen,’’ a senior Left Front leader said.
The other alternative with the Congress is Sushilkumar Shinde, the first Dalit chief minister of Maharashtra. But he had lost the VP’s election to Shekhawat in 2002.
Moreover, a Congress-sponsored Dalit in the highest constitutional office could run counter to Mayawati’s ambition of wresting the pan-Indian leadership of the dalits.