by R Jagannathan May 3, 2012
If it's not Hamid Ansari,could it be Pranab Mukherjee for president?
News channels have been reporting thatMukherjee is in with a chance since Trinamool Congress is not averse tosupporting him, and even the Left may not object to his candidature. If theSamajwadi Party hops onto the bandwagon at some point – though it is stillharping on a Muslim candidate – it would leave only the BJP really fuming overMukherjee's name. But its ally Janata Dal (United) may have no problem witheither Ansari or Mukherjee.
However, Mukherjee will notbe a shoo-in for the job, for some very rational and irrational reasons.
First, the irrational ones relate to SoniaGandhi, and her known wariness about Pranab Mukherjee's ambitions.When Indira Gandhi was assassinated, Pranab offered himself as a primeministerial choice, and this reportedly angered Rajiv and Sonia. But, moreimportantly, given his cross-party acceptability, SoniaGandhi may be happier with a resident in Rashtrapati Bhavanshe can trust in 2014 – assuming the Congress, short on numbers, needs time tocobble a majority together. So, no Pranab as president.
Second, Pranab Mukherjee has huge utility where he is – asvirtual No 2 in government, and the UPA's main trouble-shooter. Pranab's is theonly political mind at the top in UPA;ManmohanSingh has no credibility and Chidambaram is widely dislikedby his peers and opposition parties. If UPA wants to survive the remaining twoyears to 2014 without mishap, it is not ManmohanSingh or Chidambaram who are going to deliver this outcome,but Mukherjee. And Sonia knows this. She would thus prefer an Ansari or even anAK Antony for president – both are loyalists rather than movers and shakers.
Third, getting kicked upstairs to Rashtrapati Bhavan maynot suit any of his powerful ministry advisors – and especially hisall-powerful Woman Friday, Omita Paul. In UPA-2, power resides in the financeministry apart from 10 Janpath, and no one who benefits from this powerplay islikely to recommend that Mukherjee should call it a day and slink off topresidency. Consider how long the finance ministry has stalled the appointmentof a CEO for UTI Mutual Fund because Omita Paul's brother has not yet foundfavour. With Mukherjee gone, the power players will have to wind up shop inNorth Block.
Fourth, Mukherjee himself – assuming rumours of hisoccasional prime ministerial ambitions are true – may not want to be inRashtrapati Bhavan if 2014 is going to throw up a hung house where power willshift to the person with the greatest acceptability. This was the hope thatkept Sharad Pawar in the race till 2009, and this is the hope that could keepMukherjee out of the presidency.
On the other hand, there aretwo weak reasons why Pranab could consider moving to the ceremonialjob.
One, ManmohanSingh may be happy to kick him upstairs to remove the lastremaining threat to the throne before 2014. But the PM will not have a big sayon Mukherjee.
Two, Mukherjee himself may want a peaceful job – and thereare no sinecures to match the one offered by the presidency. Ask PratibhaPatil, who managed to make the most of it.
The odds are 4-2 againstPranab Mukherjee landing the highest office in the land next July. His name isprobably a red herring in the initial stages of the presidential sweepstakes.
Pranab for president! Youbet
Published: Friday, May 4,2012, 9:00 IST
By Diptosh Majumdar & Anil Sharma | Place: NewDelhi
TheCongress-led UPA appears to be ahead of others in the presidential race witheven an NDA ally — the Janata Dal (United) — making friendly noises.
Thoughthe Congress is still to officially name someone for the president's post, thepolitical tide is in favour of vice-president Hamid Ansari and finance ministerPranab Mukherjee.
Itis clear that the Congress is gradually working towards extracting a commitmentfrom three parties that command substantial votes. One of the parties is itsown volatile coalition partner, the Trinamool Congress. The two others, whichfrequently support Congress from the outside, are Mulayam Singh Yadav'sSamajwadi Party and Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party.
SeniorCongress leaders say there is no hurry as there is time till mid-July to decideon a candidate. Several Congress MPs feel Mukherjee and Ansari are formidablenominees.
Whilesome like the usually candid Satyavrat Chaturvedi think that Mukherjee shouldbe allowed to fulfil his ambition, there are others like Renuka Chaudhury whobelieve it will be difficult for the party to let him go.
SomeCongressmen say it is difficult to understand Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee.She has not given any commitment even after two rounds of discussions - firstwith senior minister Kamal Nath on Wednesday night and then with Congresspresident Sonia Gandhi on Thursday afternoon.
Atpresent, she is more concerned with the financial crisis in West Bengal and sheis carefully watching the Centre's response to her demand for a three-yearmoratorium on the interest payable by her state. She is staying in the capitaltill the NCTC meet on Saturday and a lot depends on how she reacts to thecentral aid offered for Bengal.
Banerjeeis playing her own little game during her stay in the capital. Apart frommeeting the Congress chief, she spent some time with Mulayam Singh Yadav.Unlike Banerjee, Mulayam is almost on board. He told reporters on Thursday thatthe president should be a "political" person, which many haveinterpreted as his preference for Mukherjee.
TheCongress has sent feelers to Mulayam and Mayawati. The SP chief is carefullystudying the Congress approach towards building a consensus. Now that he is amajor player, following the success in UP polls, he wants to be wooed.
TheBSP has not said anything till now. Mayawati, now a Rajya Sabha MP, is spendingmore time in the capital and she will certainly work out her own deal with theCongress.
Butthe Congress has reasons to cheer. Sharad Yadav and Nitish Kumar have brokenranks with the NDA and questioned senior BJP leader Sushma Swaraj's wisdom indescribing Ansari as a person without "stature".
Infact, even on Thursday, senior JD(U) leader Shivanand Tewari said both Ansariand Mukherjee were widely acceptable candidates. A senior Congress leader pointedout that these "generous remarks" do not mean JD(U) is thinking ofmaking a clean break with its senior NDA partner, the BJP. It only means thatthe JD(U) may push the BJP towards the consensus being forged by the Congress.
TheLeft parties will meet on Friday to chalk out a plan of action. But CPI generalsecretary AB Bardhan said he was not averse to a consensus choice. CPI(M)politburo member Sitaram Yechury said the Left did not object to Mukherjee'sname when it came up in 2007. And Ansari was virtually a Left candidate then.
Infact, the Trinamool chief might find Ansari's close links with the Leftirksome. Also, she might not be too happy with Mukherjee, mostly because of hisgood chemistry with the communists. She even told reporters that the Congresshad not named Mukherjee as a candidate.
Atpresent, Ansari and Mukherjee have surged ahead. Both stand a better chance ofmaking it to the post because the UPA, along with the SP and BSP, has thenumbers. But the path is still uncertain and the Congress might just spring asurprise by fielding a wild card entry.
President poll: SushmaSwaraj meets JD-U chief Sharad Yadav
NDAconvenor Sharad Yadav met the BJP leader and Leader of the Opposition in theLok Sabha Sushma Swaraj on Wednesday , 2 May in connection with her statementon Monday that the NDA opposed Congress's Presidential nominees PranabMukherjee and Hamid Ansari.
Yadavhad reacted sharply to her comments saying that she had no right to speak onbehalf of the NDA. Swaraj reportedly clarified her statement to Sharad Yadav inthe meeting.
Sourcessaid both parties have agreed to be silent on the issue till a meeting of theNDA is held and a final call is made on the presidential candidate. "WhatSwaraj had said was BJP's view. The matter had not been discussed with otherNDA partners, including JD(U). A meeting of NDA will be held soon to discussthe matter," a senior BJP leader said.
JD(U)has reportedly conveyed to BJP that Swaraj's comments against Ansari has putthe party in difficulty in Bihar where the two are part of the ruling alliance.JD(U) has been wooing the sizable minority community in the state and hercomments would antagonise them.
JD(U)'smain political adversary RJD was the first to publicly say that Ansari can be acandidate for President. RJD chief Lalu Prasad has decided to throw his weightbehind Hamid Ansari for the President's post.
Meanwhile,BJP President Nitin Gadkari hit out at the Congress for not reaching out to theBJP for a concensus on who should be the next President.