There is intense speculation about the choice of the country’s next President. Two names have been mentioned prominently as the possible nominees of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) for the office of President: Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Vice President Hamid Ansari.
With the Left parties agreeing to support the candidature of both these probables and the Samajwadi party’s refusal to name a candidate of its choice, it appears that the Congress party may not have much of a problem in pushing either of these two candidates. However, the nomination of either Pranab Mukherjee or Hamid Ansari may elude a political consensus and force a contest as the BJP, the principal opposition party, has already come out against both these names.
Is the Congress party which has floated these names really enthusiastic about them? Perhaps not. Neither of them is a favourite of the Congress President Sonia Gandhi who is the ultimate decision maker of the UPA. The Congress party perhaps felt compelled to float these names in order to nix the chances of Abdul Kalam emerging as a joint opposition candidate.
Opposition to Kalam
The Congress party loathes Abdul Kalam for his national stature, fierce independence, unimpeachable integrity and unrivalled popularity. At a time when the image of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and that of his government have taken a huge knock and is falling inexorably, a President of unimpeachable integrity may exacerbate the government’s failings. Unconfirmed reports hold that Abdul Kalam may have stalled Sonia Gandhi’s swearing-in as prime minister in 2004 on account of her foreign origin. Whatever the reason, Sonia Gandhi-led Congress would do everything to prevent Kalam’s return as president.
The idea of ‘Kalam as President’ not gathering momentum is symptomatic of the inability of non-UPA, non-NDA regional parties to come together under one platform. The recently floated idea of a regional front has proved to be a non-starter as each of these parties is speaking in a different voice. These parties have missed a huge opportunity in demonstrating their strength by fielding a common presidential candidate. Can such parties be expected to forge a common front to lead a government after 2014 polls? One should be naïve to believe such a prospect.
With parties like the Samajwadi party and Janata Dal (United) not excited about Kalam, the Congress party feels that it can push its own candidate. Congress leadership has always been wary of Pranab Mukherjee and sees Hamid Ansari as a nominee of the Left parties.
Mamata Banerjee who is yet to reveal her mind would be wary of Hamid Ansari given her obsession to oppose anything remotely linked to Left parties. She would also be uncomfortable with Pranab Mukherjee as President of India, for that may boost the Congress party’s prospects in Bengal politics. Support of Left parties for Pranab’s candidature and lack of a financial package from him to the crisis-ridden state may be other reasons for Mamata’s reservations about Pranab Mukherjee.
Given the above factors, the Congress party may throw up other names that are likely to find wider acceptance. These may prominently include Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar and Chief Election Commissioner S.Y. Quraishi.
Most political parties consider it to be sacrilegious (from a ‘secular’ standpoint!) not to have either a Muslim President or a Vice-President. Presidential elections are a classic case of minority appeasement and I wonder if this act of tokenism by parties practicing vote bank politics has any impact at all on the Muslim populace.
Whatever the logic, it suits most political parties to back a Muslim candidate as President of India. UPA ally DMK has already supported the idea of a Muslim President. Samajwadi party, which has crucial strength in the electoral assembly for electing the President of India, would also find the idea appealing. Non-UPA parties like the Bahujan Samaj Party, Telugu Desam Party (TDP), Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and Janata Dal (United) will readily support a Muslim candidate.
Quraishi as frontrunner
S.Y. Quraishi fits the bill as a Muslim candidate. He is the serving chief election commissioner and is due to retire next month, just a week before the onset of the process of presidential election. Though an appointee of the Congress party, as any quintessential bureaucrat would, he has maintained good personal relations with leaders across the political spectrum.
Quraishi’s genial manners and affable nature have endeared him to many political leaders. Quraishi has received fulsome praise from BJP’s senior leader L.K. Advani for countermanding the Jharkhand Rajya Sabha election recently. There is unlikely to be opposition from any quarter to him being elected as the President of India.
Does Quraishi have the stature to be made President? Though his career as a bureaucrat may be undistinguished, his stint in the Election Commission has enhanced his standing. Moreover, when a candidate suits disparate political interests, this requirement is of little consequence. Anyways, what stature did Pratibha Patil have to be made President of India?