Let’s face it, this Presidential election to find an heir to Pratibha Patil’s throne is absolutely crucial for the Congress party as much as it is for the supporting parties in the UPA. One of the few jobs that a President does without being harangued by the Union Cabinet is inviting the majority stakeholder after a general elections, to form the government in a coalition system of governance. The UPA knows for sure that the general elections of 2014 will throw up a fractured verdict which would entail a lot of horse trading. In such circumstances a pliable President is very important for the Congress. It is a different matter that once a person of stature occupies the office, he/ she may not be given to playing to the tune of the political parties which voted him/ her to the Presidential post.
There are good examples of credible, independent Presidents who were political party heads, who did not go by the party diktat. R. Venkataraman and Zail Singh in spite of being Congress party members till the time of their elevation to the President’s office had proved to be tough task-masters. But Congress this time around may be looking for a much cosier President in the light of the large number of financial scandals and investigations it is facing.
Though the chances of the UPA coming to power again in 2014 look increasingly dim, if a fractured verdict gives Congress party a little chance it does not want it to be lost for the lack of a pliable President. That is the reason for the unusually hectic parleys and frantic efforts to garner support at all cost.
The back room dealings with almost all the allies in the government give enough reasons for people to believe that the stakes are high. When Mamata Banerjee, Chief Minister of West Bengal and an ally in the UPA made it clear that it’s her way or the highway, the Congress leadership capitulated. It is not that Mamata Banerjee’s demands for a financial package are unreasonable. The Trinamool-run State government is demanding a three-year moratorium on annual interest payment (currently Rs 18,100-crore) that would give debt-ridden Bengal temporary relief amounting to Rs 54,300-crore. The UPA government at the Centre was a mute witness to the pillage and loot by the previous Left government in West Bengal which led to empty State coffers and long economic stagnation. Now Mamata Banerjee is asking the UPA government at the Centre to pay for its folly.
The desperation becomes clear from the fact that Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress has only 4 per cent vote share in the collegium for electing the President, and yet both Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress chief Sonia Gandhi are bending backwards to accommodate her with the fond hope that in case of a tie, it will still have some head room for negotiations to get the President of its choice.
Though the present incumbent in the Vice President’s post Hamid Ansari might be considered more acceptable to the allies given the role that religious backgrounds of prospective candidates play in such elections, Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee’s name in list of probable candidates is simply unbecoming. Pranab Mukherjee might be pally with many of the Opposition party members as much as with UPA allies, but to project a core member of Congress party as the Presidential candidate gives away the game plan.
In all this the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) members have to be quite wary of the consequences of the Presidential polls and the game that will play out after the 2014 elections. Given the multi-lakh crore financial scandals that various members of the Union Cabinet were found to be involved in, the Congress and its allies in UPA will agree to any kind of arrangement to stall any investigations. The CBI has almost become a toothless institution which today is effective only under the Supreme Court’s directions. The Congress party and its allies in UPA will not want to disturb that apple cart, else all the ill-gotten benefits will have to be squandered away if the NDA comes to power. Even if one goes by the recent local election results anywhere in the country NDA’s prospects are undeniable, but UPA will not let the spoils of power be lost without a fight even if it means making whatever compromises and at any cost.