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Home > News > Specials

The Rediff Special/ Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi

Sonia's desperate gamble for President

June 12, 2007

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If you were here to see what all is going on in New Delhi over the election of the next President of India, it will make you feel more sick than even the sickening summer can make you feel.

Spare a thought for these four takes. 

  • Just behind the posh Khan Market bazaar, Congress president Sonia Gandhi drove down to meet Mayawati for two full hours over dinner yesterday. The Mayawati fever is reaching ridiculous levels in Indian politics. The United Progressive Alliance wants to nominate a successor to President APJ Abdul Kalam [Images]. So the race to garner support is on.

Somewhat justifiably they think since the National Democratic Alliance last time proposed Kalam's name and the Opposition agreed to it, this time the UPA candidate should become President. But, there are a few hitches here. One, the difference of votes between the two political spectrums is very narrow. If at all it boils down to an election, then just around 60,000 votes can turn the table � which means cross-voting cannot be altogether ruled out. However, it's not so easy either with political opportunism well-defined, but it's said that the 'Thakur vote' and 'anti-Congress' vote within the UPA and its allies' MPs can create a stir.

Even if the UPA's candidate wins though after hurdles and glitches, then it will speak volumes about the mechanism of selection of a candidate for the grand post of President. So Gandhi, who has been entrusted with the responsibility of selecting the ruling alliance's candidate, is running from 10 Janpath to Humayun Road residence of Mayawati to ensure that no such shock comes her way.  In the process, her meeting with Mayawati awkwardly exposes the pathetic position of the Congress party in spite of it holding power at the centre for three years.

Mayawati has 58,300 votes in the market and has already cornered terrific political mileage and some huge economic packages for her state because of it, plus a favourable outcome in the pending Taj Corridor case against her.

Today she held a press conference, again in a five-star hotel, to make sure that she gets enough coverage about how the Bahujan Samaj Party is not only important in this Presidential election but its stance is also decisive for whoever wants to become President.

Railway Minister Lalu Yadav and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi have half her votes and Sharad Pawar [Images] has even less at 24,007. It must be galling for them to see 100-plus journalists eating five-star lunch at her expense.

  • Why is this election of president in 2007 looking so hot as it was in 1969? Because of the personality of Vice President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat who wants to be President.

People who know him understand that why Shekhawat could not be taken as an "also-ran".
Sharad Pawar of the Nationalist Congress Party, Pranab Mukherjee of the Congress and Shekhawat, formerly of the BJP, are among few leaders in Indian politics who have deep political relations even outside their party. Shekhawat was in the BJP but was never known for his saffron shade of politics; his identity was of a Thakur leader and a politician who made great friendships. He is known for his great sense of humour and penchant for good life.
His life doesn't end with politics but goes beyond, to personal friendships.

  • On August 18, 2006, Sitaram Yechury, the vocal Left leader rose in the Rajya Sabha and told Shekhawat, chairman of the House, 'Sir, I have risen to wish you all the best for the future and to thank you.' Yes, the same Yechury, whose party and other Left parties are going to vote against Shekhawat if he decides to contest the Presidential election. Yechury added on that day, 'Sir, your conduct has been completely above board on all occasions. I think you have made a mark not only as the Chairman in this House, but as  an esteemed Vice President of our country for Indian democracy itself. I would cherish this contribution you have made for Indian democracy. And wish you many, many years of such contribution for sake of India's future.'

Notwithstanding Yechury's words, the Left will go with the UPA candidate without much fuss and tamasha, as witnessed in the case of Mayawati.

Today, Prakash Karat said the Communist Party of India-Marxist will take final decision tomorrow but there is hardly much to decide for the leftists because under no circumstances can they go with any candidate who is supported by the BJP, an office-bearer of the Congress points out.

The same day Amar Singh of the Samajwadi Party termed Shekhawat as the Ajatashatru (man without enemies) of Indian politics.

If the Samajwadi Party and Telugu Desam agree to back Shekhawat along with the BJP only then Shekhawat may think of contesting as an independent, paving the way for cross-voting by those MPs who may like to vote as per their "inner voice." And not as per party line. Shekhavat had attracted cross-voting when he became Vice president,also. 

  • Last month, as the countdown had just begun, the 80-plus Shekhawat, looking handsome in his white dhoti and kameez, told a visitor, "Beti, in Indian politics one month is a long, long time. You never know what all is possible before the actual date of election arrives." He refused to talk about his candidature or his inclination, but his visit to Jyoti Basu in Kolkata revealed that Shekhawat is serious and would like to test the ground before taking a decision to plunge or not to plunge. 
  • Shivraj Patil is emerging as the likely candidate of Gandhi to succeed Kalam, though it is bruited about today that the Left is really not keen on him. However, if he really reaches that imperial palace of the colonial era on Raisina Hill, the actual loser will be Sonia Gandhi, says a senior journalist who has reported on the Gandhi family since 30 years. For it will establish the fact that Sonia Gandhi is still not confident enough as a statesman to lead the country without prejudices towards her party men who have better intellectual capacity to contribute in building and running the nation.

That Pranab Mukherjee would have been a better choice than Patil is not even worth mentioning or debating over. But, Sonia Gandhi never fully trusted Pranabda who once indicated, after the death of Indira Gandhi [Images], that in keeping with tradition, the party's senior-most leader should have got the top job.

Recently, when the search for the UPA candidate began after initial speculation, Mukherjee's name cropped up. The Left supported the idea publicly and Pranabda, according to sources, didn't turn down the idea either. But, it's a well known fact that in Congress the most important criteria for getting power is loyalty to the Gandhi family. By turning down Mukherjee for the President's post, Sonia Gandhi may be heading to impose a flop home minister, and quite a lacklustre man who changes clothes three times a day, as the next President.
The interplay of personal loyalty factor within the Congress has cast its shadow outside the party and up to Rashtrapati Bhavan [Images]. But then, who knows? Even a day is a long time in politics. Let us wait for Madame Gandhi's final, final decision.

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