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Rediff.com  » News » 'For Sonia, Mulayam is a long term, unpredictable ally'

'For Sonia, Mulayam is a long term, unpredictable ally'

June 26, 2012 15:33 IST

The race to elect the 13th President has so far seen plenty of action and intrigue, it even appearing for a brief while as if the government of the day could be challenged and actually brought down over the election. With Pranab Mukherjee and P A Sangma in the fray it may jusy be a fight to the finish.

Rasheed Kidwai, associate editor of The Telegraph newspaper who is the author of Sonia: A biography and 24 Akbar Road, made an exclusive appearance on Rediff Chat on Monday where he fielded wide-ranging questions about the Presidential poll. Here is the transcript from the chat...

Ramj: Why Pranab as President and not MMS
Rasheed Kidwai: I think from congress-upa point of view, pm manmohan is doing reasonably okay job.

mkp asked: Is pranab a fit person for president of india at this time
Rasheed Kidwai: in terms of experience and acumen, i think he is a good candidate.

aslamh: Sir, Do you think given the equations, BJP should have supported Pranab Mukherjee
Rasheed Kidwai: normally in democracy contest is a must so bjp opposition have a right to contest.

Akhan: Why not APJ again....
Rasheed Kidwai: There is no precedence of former president seeking office after retirement. i think kalam saheb was right in saying no when numbers were not with him!

Princess: Hello Rasheed, do you think it's smooth sailing for Pranab, or will we see some nasty surprises on July 22?
Rasheed Kidwai: i think nda did not prepare well for prez polls. had they announced kalam and taken his consent in advance, things would have been tough for the upa.

rashtrapathi: hi why not p a sangma for the jd-u and shiva sena
Rasheed Kidwai: i think shiv sena and jd-U do not view pranab mukherjee as a rubber stamp they have decided on merit.

Princess asked: Do you think Mulayam can be trusted?
Rasheed Kidwai: I think sonia views Mulayam as long term and unpredictable ally. After UP debacle, she feels if Mulayam cannot be defeated, he can be co-opted. She is prepared to make concessions and in turn, count on his support on key economic legislations and measures like fdi in retail.

On a political plane, she plans to keep him away from the third front consisting of likes of nitish kumar, mamata banerjee and others who will matter in 2014. in sonia's scheme of things, 2014 should have a congress led coalition, even if it means parting with key portfolio like defence. As long as there is a congress pm, with home and finance, she is okay to grant some key berths to Samajwadi like defence, petroleum etc.

IlaVarsi asked: Kidwai sir, but why didn't UPA try for consensus? Why did they not consult Oppn, like how Vajpayee did for Kalam in 2002?
rasheed kidwai: in democracy consensus is not ideal

Selvamaniz asked: Pranab is one of the most capable person in the central ministry. when country facing so much of crisis, sending him as a president means something fishy in congress. Especially thinking back the issues between pranab and chidambaram and chidambaram supported by sonia?
Rasheed Kidwai: At a time when Pranab Mukherjee is set to enter Rashtrapati Bhawan, the veteran Congress leader has a sense of satisfaction. The high office has come in recognition of his service to the party and the nation. Hours before he was officially named as UPA's presidential nominee, Pranab was named as 'Sonia Gandhi's first choice' for the post.

For a life-long Congress soldier, there could have been no better compliment than that. Like PV (Narasimha Rao), RV (R Venkataraman) ND (ND Tiwari) Pranab is last towering leader from Indira Gandhi's school of politics. The reward and appreciation from Indira's daughter-in-law on June 15, 2012 sums up the extraordinary story of Pranab's political acumen, perseverance and loyalty.

Ganesh asked: What happens if Pranbda loses, will he join congress and become FM again?
Rasheed Kidwai: No he will have to take retirement.

Raj asked: Do you think BJP would have been better off either supporting Pranab or abstaining?
Rasheed Kidwai: a political party bjp has a right to contest, why should they abstain. when nehru and vajpayee were prime ministers, their opponents viewed them with respect but that did not mean no contest!!

IlaVarsiL asked: How do you rate Sonia Gandhi? I mean, I find it hard to accept that a foreigner can be adept at the heartland matters, which even to the best of us is a puzzle at the best of times. Are we crediting her with too much intelligence? Mass appeal, maybe she has thanks to the surname... but even that is increasingly in doubt?
Rasheed Kidwai: Sonia Gandhi is the longest running president of the Congress. She has come a long way from the foreign bahu tag. the biggest thing she has done is that she has made the Congress more electable. She quickly learnt that in the age of coalition politics, alliances were the way forward.

This explains her ties with the DMK, a party which some senior Congress leaders had accused of being soft on the LTTE, Sri Lankan militant outfit to whose bomb Rajiv Gandhi fell. she shows total clean dealing with her allies, even with people like the NCP which has had an ego clash. She knows how to give respect to senior leaders. In fact Sonia's handling of allies and alliance leaders has even better than atal Bihari Vajpayee

m asked: i think pranab mukherji has make our economic condition worse.. now he is escaping.
Rasheed Kidwai: there are global compulsions but u think pranab did reasonably good job.

Raj: Will Pranab be able to be a non-biased President given his association with Congress for such a long time. What in case of a hung parliament in 2014 with BJP as the single largest party but UPA the largest alliance.
Rasheed Kidwai: like prem chandra's panch paremeshwar story, pranab will rise above narrow political considerations.

Raj asked: Will Pranab be able to be a non-biased President given his association with Congress for such a long time. What in case of a hung parliament in 2014 with BJP as the single largest party but UPA the largest alliance.
Rasheed Kidwai: the role of prez is well defined in such situations. pranab will have to invite single largest party and seek letters of support; if they fail, the other combination will be called

bharatpremi asked: Who is your guess for next vice president of india?
Rasheed Kidwai: i think someone belonging to dalits or minorities will make it

Pradip: I think If other small Parties vote for Sangama and Considering chances of cross Voting, Sangma can give tough fight to Mukherji, is it possible that mukherji may lose.
Rasheed Kidwai: prez polls have proportional representation in terms of population. so a vote from uttar Pradesh has highest weightage.

Shahezadi asked: Pranab should have been made prime minister, was he disqualified solely because of 1984, Rasheed saab?
Rasheed Kidwai: Following Indira Gandhi's assassination, Pranab's ties with Rajiv Gandhi hit a low. Pranab was No. 2 in the Indira cabinet. Sources close to him insist it was a case of misunderstanding, which was cleared when Rajiv Gandhi brought him back into the Congress. He was with Rajiv Gandhi in Bengal when news of the attack on Indira Gandhi reached them. They returned to Delhi in the same aircraft. A story goes that Pranab was so consumed with grief that he went to the aircraft toilet and wept.

He then chose to sit at the back of the plane because his eyes were red. But opponents within the Congress accused him of "plotting and scheming" against Rajiv Gandhi. Another story goes that when Rajiv Gandhi posed a "theoretical question" on a "caretaker Prime Minister", Pranab stressed on "seniority", which was later construed as his desire to occupy the Prime Minister's chair. Subsequently, Pranab quit the Congress and floated the Rashtriya Samajwadi Congress but merged it with the Congress in 1989.

He won Rajiv's confidence and went on to hold several ministerial portfolios and important party positions under Narasimha Rao, Sitaram Kesri and Sonia.

Sheela asked: What's your take on Mulayam Singh yadav and Congress's recent moves? Will he join cabinet? Will he give support on economic reforms?
Rasheed Kidwai: I think sonia views Mulayam as long term and unpredictable ally. After UP debacle, she feels if Mulayam cannot be defeated, he can be co-opted. She is prepared to make concessions and in turn, count on his support on key economic legislations and measures like fdi in retail.

On a political plane, she plans to keep him away from the third front consisting of likes of nitish kumar, mamata banerjee and others who will matter in 2014. in sonia's scheme of things, 2014 should have a congress led coalition, even if it means parting with key portfolio like defence. As long as there is a congress pm, with home and finance, she is okay to grant some key berths to Samajwadis like defence, petroleum etc

bharatpremi asked: Was it necessary for Pranab to resign from the post of FM or leader of Loksabha as he shall get 6 months period to resign from either post?
Rasheed Kidwai: propriety demanded that he steps down before filing for nomination for presidential polls.

Pradip asked: What could be reason that congress want Pranab to be out of Politics, Is it because he is strong conteder for PM against Rahul?
Rasheed Kidwai: no pranab himself gave an interview to india today saying he does not see himself working under rahul as a minister!!!

Sridevi asked: What do you think who inserted pm Singh's name in the short list of Msy and Mamta?
Rasheed Kidwai: it was interesting development:) but pl do not forget that in 1997 when united front govt was there, kesri led congress had forced change of pm, deve gowda! here it was a mere suggestion

Suketu asked: Will Msy join cabinet? Why?
Rasheed Kidwai: only time will tell. please remember Sonia and Mulayam have had an uneasy relationship. In May 1999, Mulayam had refused to extend support to a Sonia-led government after the fall of the then Vajpayee regime. there is an anecdote that I wish to narrate here:

Many years ago both leaders had attended a dinner at Somnath Chatterjee's residence. Sonia was tucking into a hilsa when Mulayam took a potshot, saying: "Madam, be careful. Hilsa hai. Kanta chubh jaye ga(the fish bone may hurt you)." Sonia's retort was quick. "Main kanton se joojhna janti hoon(I know how to deal with thorns)," she said.

prasad asked: Do you think APJ would have had a winning chance with conscience voting and secret ballots in place ?
Rasheed Kidwai: ideally these things should work but in politics of today, mlas, mps follow leaders and whips more than their conscience!! so to expect them to behave in exemplary manner is a real tall order. i think kalam saheb did good job by staying on as ex-prez than defeat president.

Sohini asked: Will Pranab da win? With what kind of margin? What's the gain of UPA through the election? What will NDA lose through it?
Rasheed Kidwai: i think he will get over 60 per cent of votes. it is a big reprieve for UPA. the presidential victory will come at a time when congress-upa desperate need something to look up

AshutoshSonkar: Rasheed, what options are left for Mamta Didi, in case she is not willing to vote for PA sangma.....skipping the voting is also not a good sign....
Rasheed Kidwai: i think she will not be a loser in ultimate outcome as an ally, she has a right to maintain her identity and stick to her beliefs.


Mssvasudhev: If you throw challenge on us, pls answer, how will a hard core politician till today belonging to one party can be a neutral President???

Rasheed Kidwai: since independence dr rajendra prasad, shankar dayal sharma, r venkat raman etc conducted themselves well. even zail singh gave tough time to rajiv gandhi. so it is not that polticians are bad in rashtrapati bhawan by friend. hope it answers your query.

ali asked: will mamata support pranab? will mamata support pranab?
Rasheed Kidwai: she is emotional sorts. i feel if pranab approaches her directly, there could be a situation of tmc supporting. remember mamata had no objection to pranab as fm or mea or defence minister of the country.

msd asked: hi rasheed ..who do u think will become the vice president...will hamid ansari get a 2nd term ?
Rasheed Kidwai: i think upa will not do that, it is like setting a precedence

Pradip asked: If we consider only 50-60% voting is happening and if we consider that the MLAs are elected they are selected by on 20-25% people, how the can be representative on 100 PPL.
Rasheed Kidwai: in political science, those who do not vote are not only harmless, they are useless too!!!

pradeep asked: can president will find out the solution of pending issues like "afzal guru,azmal kasab "etc?
Rasheed Kidwai: yes prez should be pro active . there is no barrier. i think time and age demand a pro active prez, nation's conscience keeper

Kabeer asked: Do you think the BJP too missed the bus? They should have taken initiative and proposed Pranab as Prez and in return should have asked for Jaswant as VP, so that if Jaswant performs well, he may stand a chance to become President if the BJP gains some seats in the next election
Rasheed Kidwai: i feel bjp, nda and third front should have had a strategy in place. they believed that congress-sonia would not field pranab. the reliance on delhi gossip culture cost them dearly.

For some reason, Sonia-Pranab relations have always been shrouded in mystery. There is an erroneous and over-simplistic assumption that the lady at 10, Janpath did not 'trust' Pranab fully. Nothing would be farther from the truth. Pranab's relations with Sonia have evolved.

He was instrumental in plotting a coup against the then Congress Sitaram Kesri to ensure Sonia formally taking over the party in March 1998. He was her closest advisor when Sharad Pawar, PA Sangma and Tariq Anwar revolted against her on grounds of her foreign origins. It is believed that the draft of all Sonia's letters of that era were prepared by Pranab.

In fact, Sonia's admiration for the Bengali babu dates back to Indira Gandhi's dinner table conversation, when the former prime minister used to narrate anecdotes of Pranab's wit and scholarship with relish. Like Indira, Sonia regarded him as a living encyclopedia, an authority on a range of subjects from food processing to culture to diplomacy to social policies.

subhasis asked: People say Pranab Mukherjee is more Left front candidate than UPA candidate ! what do you think aboout this
Rasheed Kidwai: in 2007, the left had proposed his name but that time congress had declined to spare pranab's services

LUAGHINGGIRL: sir, except, manmohan , pranab, sangma what option do you have,
Rasheed Kidwai: you know until 1974, anyone could contest. Chowdhury Hari Ram, a farmer from Haryana was country's original "dharti pakar" contesting and losing presidential polls with passion till Kaka Joginder, Mohan Lal Dhartipakar, T.N. Seshan, Ram Jethmalani and others joined the league.

Hari Lal, a farmer disliked the idea of associating with any organised political group or movement. But his son Krishnamurty Hooda served as minister in Bhajan Lal cabinet. Hari Lal had contested 1952, 1957,1962, 1967 and 1969 presidential polls, sometimes even getting 'zero' votes. Prior to 1974, any one could contest presidential polls by virtue of an adult voter. But in 1974, parliament passed an act following the experience of the past five elections to the office of the President that were held in 1952 1957, 1962, 1967 and 1969.

It had shown that men like Hari ram offered themselves as candidates for the highest office of the President without even a remote chance of getting elected. Another matter of concern was the light-hearted manner in which persons resorted to a court of law for challenging the election to the office of the President. In order to overcome these shortcoming, the union government, on the recommendations of the Election Commission, got an Act passed by Parliament amending the Presidential and Vice-Presidential Act, 1952.

The main features of the amendment are: a. The nomination paper of a Presidential candidate shall be subscribed by at least 10 electors as proposers and 10 electors as seconders. (it was further amended and now forpresident, it needs 50 MPs or MLAs as proposers and seconders respectively. b. The security deposit which was pegged at Rs. 2,500/- in 1974 (currently it is rs 15000/) increased too.

Kabeer asked: When Congress didnt have enough numbers, I was expecting that the COngress would propose Dr.Karan Singh as its Presidential candidate to stump the BJP forcing it to endorse its line. Do you think it would hurt Congs chances in the next Loksabha elections?
Rasheed Kidwai: i think karan singh's stand on kashmir came on way in 2007 and in 2012. i do not think prez polls of 2012 will have any impact on 2014 general elections

jjj asked: Will Mr Mukherjee or any other else will be able to do justice with the nation, given the background of active politics.
Rasheed Kidwai: politics is art of the possible and i think pranab will serve as a text book style prez.Apparently, Pranab first began toying with the idea of occupying Rashtrapati Bhavan 11 years ago.

In an interview given in 2001, Pranab conceded that he would never be able to become either the Prime Minister or the Bengal chief minister. He had cited three reasons for it: poor command over Hindi; lack of the leadership qualities of Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Jyoti Basu, Rajiv Gandhi and Mamata Banerjee; and inability to win a Lok Sabha seat (he was first elected to the Lok Sabha in 2004).

Asked to spell out his positive qualities, Pranab blushed and said that as a student of Indian politics and a visionary, he dreamt of becoming President "some day".

LUAGHINGGIRL asked: sir, what is the reason that mamta didi is too angry with pranab
rasheed kidwai: it has to been in the context of bengal congress politics. mamata, many believe emerged in spite of pranab mukherjee. she was forced to quit congress party and had to struggle long and hard before edging out the left. she remembers all of it

Kabeer asked: When Mulayam and Mamata mentioned Somnath Chatterjee's name, dont you think Congress should have supported his name particularly in view of his support to Congress much to the anathema of the Left? Besides, Somanath da is well respected and Congress could have retained the services of Pranab who is defacto PM
Rasheed Kidwai: i think congress was clear to push name of a congress person i,e. pranab mukherjee's.

Sumit asked: How do you see the future of Sonia Gandhi?
Rasheed Kidwai: she has once again shown her calibre. when it comes to dealing with alliances and allies, sonia is one step ahead of atal bihari vajpayee. she is a first class graduate from the university of life, i say

Kabeer asked: How can Congress ever hope to win 2014 elections with Manmohan as PM with all these scams badly ruining his name, though he is not personally involved? Dont you think a fresh face will help Congress?
Rasheed Kidwai: i think congress 2014 script is now ready. they will tell the voters how economist prime minister (who did not belong to political dynasty) ran the country when rest of the world was passing through difficult time. on the plank of secularism, sonia-rahul will mobilize secular forces like mulayam and even share power with likes of nitish if situation demands just to keep narendra modi away.