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Another Rubber Stamp


SEEMA MUSTAFA | Issue Dated: March 25, 2012, New Delhi
Tags : post-2014 poll scenario in mind | Pliant President | Vice President Hamid Ansari |

Another Rubber Stamp

With Assembly elections, especially the one in Uttar Pradesh, out of the way, all eyes are set on 2014, the year the people of India will come out to vote for a new Lok Sabha and a new government. In a scenario where a coalition government is certain as neither the Congress nor the BJP will be in any position to cobble together even a simple majority, the role of the President becomes even more important for those seeking a first call to form the government. 
Even as MPs crowded around Samajwadi Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav to congratulate him on his sensational victory, the calculators were out tabulating figures and the various permutations and combinations of the electoral college that will be set up to elect the President shortly after the Rajya Sabha elections.
On the record everyone insists “oh we have not even begun talking about all this as yet”, but the forced smiles on the faces of Congress leaders as they sought to mingle with those they had shunned till the other day said it all. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, known for his expressionless face, stayed back in Parliament to chat with the regional leaders. Congress president Sonia Gandhi went out of her way to be nice to the Yadavs – Lalu Prasad Yadav of Bihar and, more specifically, Akhilesh Yadav of UP.
In a Parliament that the media had expected to be more confrontationist, the mood is clearly the opposite. The wounded BJP is not keen to rub the Congress' nose in the dust for it is not particularly happy about strengthening the regional parties, and perhaps even a third front in the process. As a result, it has backed off from the “sack Chidambaram” demand and has decided to soft-pedal the issue.
Another Rubber StampThe BJP is in no mood to generate undue controversy, preferring to concentrate on getting the maximum number of candidates into the Rajya Sabha and then try negotiate some influence through the regional parties in the selection of the President of India. The last seems improbable at this stage, with the first already running into trouble as ally chief minister Nitish Kumar is determined to get the maximum number of JD(U) candidates into the Rajya Sabha from Bihar.
He does not look keen to direct a few extra votes the BJP way, and as a state MP rightly said, “Why should he? He can add to these votes and get another MP into the Upper House.” The BJP, despite returning to power with the Akali Dal in Punjab, has been made well aware of its junior status in both Punjab and Bihar.
The presence of the BJP and the Congress will be further reduced in the Rajya Sabha, which will reflect the largely federal character of the country. The Biju Janata Dal, the Trinamool Congress and the Janata Dal(U), topped by the Samajwadi Party, will gain a fair representation in the Rajya Sabha with national parties now literally scrambling for seats.
Given their poor performance in these polls, their bargaining power is heavily reduced with the regional warlords clearly in a mood to convert the push into a forceful shove. The line of prospective candidates outside the Samajwadi leaders' homes is a clear indication of where the wind is blowing.
Significantly, there is currently no real attempt for a third or, as the media now terms it, fourth front. The regional leaders spoken to confirmed that these are very early days yet, and every regional party is interested in consolidating its seats in the Upper House with little time for forging alternatives. There will be a time for that, a Samajwadi MP said, pointing out that currently the party is in no mood for a confrontation with the Congress.
The intention is to get the government together in the state, he said, and work to implement the many promises made so that the party can repeat its performance in the Lok Sabha elections. The promises of development and employment rest on an easy flow of money from New Delhi, and the Yadavs of UP seem to have taken the decision to keep relations smooth until the general elections. The wily veteran Mulayam Singh Yadav is clear about continuing to support the Congress at the Centre, more so now as, given the tactics of ally Mamata Banerjee, the Congress will be more than willing to part with some of the cash from its coffers in return for stability.
Of course, it is a vicious circle for the Congress as to keep the SP in good humour it will have to help it fulfil manifesto promises in UP. In the process, it could gain sufficient goodwill that will translate into a majority of seats in the Lok Sabha in 2014. And as Samajwadi leaders have been saying, discussions of an alternative to the Congress and the BJP can only take place after these elections. So the choice of President becomes even more important so that, if there is a fine line between rules and precedents, the person in Rashtrapati Bhawan can be expected to twist this, if possible, to favour the Congress.
In fact, given its not very happy position, the Congress might claim the numbers but knows that it will be pushed around by its allies in the process. And the only way to buy peace will be through sufficient funds that both Mamata and Mulayam need to give themselves more than a fighting chance in the next polls. The Congress that lives on hope that tomorrow will be another day of burgeoning fortunes is in no mood for an early election and is getting resigned to keeping the West Bengal and UP parties happy in return for support in Parliament on crucial bills, more so in the election of the President. Fissures could deepen after that, but that too remains to be seen.
Sonia Gandhi is not keen on getting a President who can queer the pitch for her party in 2014 if the elections throw up a hung Parliament. She would like a Pratibha Patil kind of person in Rashtrapati Bhawan and this desire for what is popularly known now as a “rubber stamp” candidate in fact rules out some probables like finance minister Pranab Mukherjee and Vice President Hamid Ansari.
Mukherjee, who is in the fray and has good relations with Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee, might not have Sonia Gandhi’s support as he is seen as “too independent” by her and her insecure advisers. And, if reports are to be believed, he has not stopped smiling ever since the UP results came in. Once in power, sources pointed out, he might not be tempted to walk that extra inch for the Congress in his desire to firm up a reputation in what could be his last innings in public life, of an impartial, honest, independent President.
The same holds true for Vice President Ansari, who was initially brought into the seat by the Left parties, and although he has mended fences rapidly with the Congress, this does not seem to be to the point of complete trust. Being an intelligent man, he is perceived to be more independent than the Congress can like.
The perennial presidential candidate, Dr Karan Singh, is again in the running. He is close to Sonia Gandhi, a trusted adviser. In fact, during the discussions for a possible President, before Pratibha Patil’s name was agreed on, Sonia Gandhi had personally suggested Dr Karan Singh for the post. This proposal was turned down by the other political parties present. He will have a chance only if the Congress decides to make common cause with the BJP for a consensus candidate which seems a little unlikely at the moment. In short, it seems that despite renewed hope the erstwhile Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir is not going to win this race either.
Another Rubber StampThe most likely option that the Congress has started exploring is to work on the SP and the TMC to support a consensus presidential candidate. This virtually rules out a Congressman, or for that matter, a Congresswoman. And talks have tentatively started on this. This is one of the reasons why the name of former President Dr APJ Abdul Kalam has entered the public domain of speculations, as he is known to be a Mulayam Singh favourite.
However, sources denied this saying that the possibility of a re-nomination at any level was “remote” and the parties concerned would prefer to look ahead. Mamata is supposed to be willing to endorse Pranab Mukherjee but again, according to sources, this will not be seconded by either the Congress or SP.
Another Rubber StampAnother Rubber StampHis is the only name in circulation from within the Congress of any serious import, but Mukherjee has never been able to overcome the fact that he had floated his own party after Rajiv Gandhi pipped him to the post of Prime Minister. He is an important troubleshooter for the party no doubt, but has never really been part of Sonia Gandhi’s inner coterie.
It does seem, if this alliance works and neither the SP nor the TMC insist on their own loyalist for the post, that the next President could prove to a ‘dark horse’ again drawn from the world outside direct politics. It is no secret that Pratibha Patil made it to the top post because she was endorsed by CPI leader AB Bardhan who swung the Left support at the time in her favour as a “woman” and a “good choice”. She was an almost forgotten Congress leader, but seen as pliable and loyal. The Left parties that were in a position that the SP and TMC hope to be this time around, had a gentleman’s agreement with the Congress that the Vice President would be of their choice, and the President selected by the Congress with general approval.
The same formula is likely to be offered by the Congress to SP and TMC this time around: a Vice President of their choice, and a President selected by the Congress in consultation with both. The search could thus be taken outside Delhi with both parties likely to look for names from within their states as well. 
A Muslim is certain for one of the two posts, given the interests of both Mulayam and Mamata, with many hopefuls queuing up already.
Names being bandied around though, one must admit, without great substance at this point, include Hamid Ansari and Vice Chancellor of Jamia Millia Islamia Najeeb Jung simply because these are some of the prominent Muslims perceived to have connections in the right places. Chances of Jung making it as Vice President are higher than Ansari being elevated as President of India, at this point.
Another Rubber StampThe other names for President include Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar, andSonia Gandhi favourite Sushil Kumar Shinde, who is always mentioned for vacant posts as the Dalit representative, but never really makes it. However, these are all the obvious guesses that will fade out of the reckoning as soon as SP and TMC come up with their choices for a consensus candidate who could be totally alien to the drawing rooms of New Delhi.
The BJP, it seems, might be out of the discussions for President altogether unless the Congress draws a complete blank with the regional parties. The Congress, sources said, in a complete shift in strategy, is more than willing to give all it takes to get its nominee into Rashtrapati Bhavan. 
This is essential for passing key legislations as Presidents have returned bills to the government. Although eventually they have no choice but to sign the bill into an Act if the government of the day insists, the veto power of a President does amount to a moral indictment of the government in power.
Another Rubber StampFormer President Giani Zail Singh used his veto power to stop the Postal Bill, while President Kalam sent back a controversial bill on the offices of profit when the UPA was in power. Given the fact that the government and the political parties will be moving into election gear after the Presidential elections, the Congress would like to avoid any such embarrassments on some popular legislations it would like to push through on the eve of the polls.
This, along with the need for a President to interpret the rules, if the need so arises after the general elections, in a friendly and not hostile manner for the Congress, makes it imperative for Sonia Gandhi and her comrades in the party to make sure that the smile on their faces remains fixed and is not mistaken for a smirk by the all-important regional parties at any stage.


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Posted By: Madhan Mohan. M | Chennai | March 19th 2012 | 17:03
I would like to see, Shri. Gopalakrishna Gandhi, the grandson of Gandhi and Rajaji as our President. I am damn sure that he will brings laurels to the high profile office of our country. He also has chance of emerging as a Consensus candidate. Shri Gandhi would be a People's President in his style of functioning.

Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017