The increasing affection for the Left parties among some of the key UPA allies is a clear message to the Congress that the projection of Dr Manmohan Singh as the next Prime Minister is not acceptable to them. Sensing the vulnerability of the Congress, Sharad Pawar minced no words in stating that the next Prime Minister will be decided by the UPA after the elections. This amounts to a rejection of Dr Manmohan Singh’s candidacy for prime ministership and is in keeping with the NCP’s new refrain that Singh was the Congress choice for the coveted office and not the UPA’s.
Pawar went further in stating that the Left’s support would be needed to form the next government in the knowledge that CPI (M) general secretary Prakash Karat is allergic to Singh and will never agree to support the UPA if the Congress choice was foisted on the alliance. Pawar has his own political ambitions. His candidacy for the prime ministership has already been endorsed by Naveen Patnaik and J Jayalalithaa both of whom will play an important role in the post-poll scenario.
Pawar had lost the race for PMship way back in June 1991 to PV Narasimha Rao. He is keeping his options open this time. His statement has sent a clear message to regional parties that he was willing to lead if they would offer their support. He also knows that he may not be able to get the approval of the Congress given his criticism of Sonia Gandhi at a CWC meeting in the late nineties.
This had led to a situation where he had to leave the party along with PA Sangma and Tariq Anwar.
Joining Pawar in praising the Left were two other UPA allies, Lalu Prasad Yadav and Ram Vilas Paswan who too somehow want to get even with the Congress for playing a spoiler by fielding candidates against their nominees in Bihar. It is evident that at one level, regional parties have established contact with each other. They are trying to present themselves as one bloc to increase their bargaining power vis-a-vis the Congress.
The Pawar-Lalu-Paswan nexus appears to be working to present a fait accompli in the form of a consensus PM candidate acceptable to other regional players to put pressure on the Congress to accept their choice. They do not wish to be taken by surprise like they they were when Sonia Gandhi brought in Singh as her choice for the PMship while declining the post herself.
The trio is also apprehensive that the Congress could sit in opposition with Rahul Gandhi as the leader of opposition if it realises that it would not be able to cobble together the numbers to form the government. The move is to pre-empt any such eventuality and bring both the Congress and Left on board while forming a secular government without Manmohan Singh as the PM nominee. The argument in favour of such a coalition would be to consolidate the front against communalism.
Lalu and Paswan who had formed a pressure group with Mulayam Singh Yadav are also seemingly supporting Pawar since they fear that their arch rival Nitish Kumar could be a dark horse for PMship from the NDA’s side if L.K. Advani’s plans go bust. Significantly, Mulayam who once enjoyed the Left’s support has so far refrained from any talk of renewing his friendship with the communists.
Nitish has widespread acceptability among regional parties and could also get endorsements from those who are already backing Pawar for the top job. Nitish has no clash of interest with any regional player. The BJP may be forced to support him and could settle for an arrangement where it would have its own deputy PM. While all this is not cast in stone, these are some of the possibilities. For all we know, the BJP too could opt to sit in the opposition.
There could be many other ways of interpreting the developments. One would be that if Congress changes its prime ministerial nominee in the post-poll scenario, then who would he or she be? The obvious answer may be Pranab Mukherjee. But then there is nothing obvious in politics. The Congress, if it is very keen to lead the government with numbers similar to those it has at present, may play its final trump card and propose the name of Sushil Kumar Shinde.
Shinde is a Dalit. He is a Union minister, a former chief minister, a former governor and a former general secretary of the Congress. More important, he was the party’s choice for the vice-president’s election against Bhairon Singh Shekhawat.
The Congress could well suggest his name and every political party in this country will find it difficult to reject his candidacy. This could be a masterstroke that will checkmate Pawar and his supporters in the Shiv Sena who may have to support another Maharashtra Manas. And the move will also checkmate Mayawati.
The Congress may boast that it has given the country its first Dalit Prime Minister. These are all in the realm of possibility and one has to wait for the post-poll chess to be concluded. Between us.