Elections to the office of the President of India are due next month. Political manoeuvres were in a insipidly low gear until the West Bengal Chief Minister, Ms Mamata Banerjee, ignited the race for the Rashtrapati Bhavan. The Congress, which was playing its cards close to its chest, was caught unawares on the names of the candidates till Mamata Banerjee floated 3 names. It struck a political tsunami instantly. The Congress in its capacity as the leading partner of the ruling coalition of the UPA(united progressive alliance) should have named its official nominee for the office of President much earlier and also started formal consultations with allies and opposition parties. A kind of consensus is desirable for President, as he is Head of the State, Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces and the only office above the law in a sense of political and legal fiction. Why was the Congress then dithering?
The Congress never wanted Pranab Mukherjee to be its official nominee. It was using his name only to appear to agree to the opposition from political forces like Mamata Banerjee, so that it could comfortably secure approval for its real official nominee. Pranab Mukherjee knows too much, has done too much and can still do too much. Political shrewdness fears such elements and always prefers totally spineless, faceless and following-less person, so that orders are simply carried out without questioning. Mukherjee was only to be moved out of the cabinet and Presidential election provided the safest mode of getting rid of him. Actually, he has come on the radar of the economic superpowers ever since the presentation of the last budget, resulting in the Vodafone case. If Mukherjee turns “assertive” like that, the desperately sought “reforms” are likely to suffer. Fortunately for him, the stout opposition from Mamata Banerjee to his nomination quickened the pace of decision making, compelling an indecisive Congress Party to declare his name for the President. Had it been Mamata alone, it would not have had that effect. But Mamata played her hand rather intelligently and enlisted the alliance of another political force in the person of the chief of the Samajwadi party, who was opposed to the real official nominee the Congress had in mind. Without using the opportunity offered by Mamata’s move, he would have been instantly branded “saffronite/saffronised” for opposing the real nominee, about whom he had indirectly spoken his mind when he declared that no bureaucrat should be nominated for the office of the President. This alliance queered the pitch for the Congress Party, compelled it to opt for Pranab Mukherjee and also announce it officially. That is how Pranab got his nomination. He should be thankful to Ms Mamata Banerjee, whom he calls his younger sister, for his nomination. In politics, oppposition rather than support does wonders many a time. This was one such case.
In Indian politics, there is competitive aggression among individuals and political groupings to secure for themselves a tag of “secular” and fling at others the muck of “communal”. So the secular forces, as they like to call themselves, are now fighting their personal battles of secularism. The Mamata & Mulayam duo announced the name of the former President APJ Abdul Kalam for the office. It was a pre-emptive response to the Congress’s box of surprise name for the office at the last moment and divide the electorate on communal lines. The Congress does not have any match for Kalam. Hence, round one went to Mamata Banerjee. This proved serendipitous to Pranab and gratuitous for whosoever was the Congress hopeful.
This one issue, one purpose, one night political stand ignited storms and fires in Delhi’s political corridors. Mamata was targeted, in no flattering terms, since she proved to be a spoiler. Political disaster managers were put into operation salvage by breaking the new alliance, which could prove fatal in the forthcoming election to the parliament in 2014 as also the election to the office of the President. Success was achieved in less than 24 hours. Political management is not taught in any under graduate or PG course but old Indian wisdom advocates use of anything and everything to achieve political goal somehow, whether by hook or crook. (It is: saam, daam, dand, bhed. Yen-ken-prakaaren)The TV channels suddenly got content and went into aggressive debates. This time TV anchors as well as Editors of some prominent magazines openly canvassed for Congress and deservedly received fulsome reprimand from guests. Interestingly the adjective or political brand names of “socialist” and “secular” too came for comments from the disillusioned as also the cynics. The reality is that neither the use of the word socialist makes an individual or a party a socialist political organization nor does the word secular make them secular. The tragedy is that socialism and secularism are mere political slogans in India. The real ideology is self interest: personal, family, clan, caste, class, religion only. That explains the absence of clarity in the voter’s mind about the choice of the ideology that should serve it as a government.
Interestingly though, this small revolt from one of the alliance partners has the seeds of great political developments in the next 24 months or so. This chance elevation of Pranab Mukherjee is going to serve many significant purposes of national significance. Count these factors: The health of the Congress President Sonia is going to continue a kind of political uncertainty and instability; the diffidence of her son Rahul Gandhi to take onerous responsibility of the government keeps getting him adverse publicity; the real Congress is dead long ago, what we have is a different Congress which survives so long there is someone from the “dynasty” in the commanding position; past attempts to hijack the Congress had failed, but the party is under siege from political outfits that make it feel victorious in matters of political decisions like the nomination of Pranab Mukherjee, for it is less a pure Congress decision and more a dictate from those who have laid a siege to it; the sad handling of defence in the past 4 months, raising the possibility of indiscipline in the forces that might demand prompt decisive action; the push from economic superpowers to open up the economy to an extent where livelihood of millions of Indians will be affected, where business will be disrupted and where employment will shrink. No figures have been put out by the government. A pliant political outfit that subserves a frail political alliance can not save the interests of the people. For that to be assured, the conscience of leaders like Mamata Banerjee needs to be nurtured and supported.