Shekhar Iyer, a familiar face on television's news analysis programmes and senior associate editor at the Hindustan Times in New Delhi, threw light on the politics behind the presidential polls as he answered questions from Rediff readers on Wednesday. Here's the transcript of the chat:
Sheela asked: Hi Shekhar, Don't you think NDA has lost badly while handling Prez election?
Shekhar Iyer: Yes, the NDA, particularly the BJP brass got it wrong and went into a battle that their party men did not want. Everyone in BJP is asking, "Why do we compete without a competitive edge?"
MohammadMukhtar asked: Presidential Election Good Candidate is a Persent Finance, Minister Mr. Shri. Parnab Mukherji
Shekhar Iyer: Mukhtar, Pranab is no doubt a good candidate. He has rich experience in government and understands the Constitution. He could make history as the best rule book President, which is not a comfortable thought for the Congress, which is looking at 2014 with a lot of self-doubt.
Surekha asked: Shekhar, how do you analyse Nitish kumar's action? Why is he supporting Congress candidate? what's his long term plan?
Shekhar Iyer: Surekha, Nitish is very clear what he wants. He does not want the BJP to remain silent about its PM candidate till the last and then thrust someone after the elections, depending on the tally.
He knows Narendra Modi is bound to gain prominence in BJP once the Gujarat polls are over end of this year. For Nitish, even if Modi is not a declared candidate, he can spoil the Janata Dal-U's performance in Bihar -- because a section of voters are dead against him.
kanusanyal asked: Shekharji, if you were in PA Sangma's place what will you do?
Shekhar Iyer: Kanu, Sangma is doing exactly doing what he should be doing. He has nothing to lose even if he loses this election. His backers in this election, notably the BJP, will have to remember in the years to come and reward him suitably for having agreed to be its candidate when it had none.
amma asked: Will Mulayam do to the UPA what he did to Mamata?
Shekhar Iyer: Mulayam is a clever politician. He will bargain hard with the Congress for having come to its rescue. One is already hearing about his son and UP chief minister Akilesh Yadav, sending a Rs 90,000 crore demand list to New Delhi for action!
sumitjda asked: How will you evaluate the tenure of Pratibha Patil as President, freely, frankly and fearlessly?
Shekhar Iyer: If Sonia Gandhi could do it again, she would have preferred Pratibha again. Not once, did Pratibha pose any constitutional problem for Sonia or Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
Yes, she did get caught in rows over her foreign jaunts and her house in Pune. But as the President, she did not commit any blunder
Chennappa: Manmohan Singh for President, says I! Mamata had it bang on, my regard for her went up miles that day
Shekhar Iyer: Mamata did not propose the PM's name out of the blue. Something was cooking behind the scene. One version is that some Congress intermediaries asked her and Mulayam Singh Yadav to propose his name. But, at some stage, plans went haywire. What was interesting was that when both the leaders proposed Dr Singh's name, many Congress leaders were happy and not shocked!
GaneshNada: Was Pranabda Sonia s first choice or was he thrust upon her by Mulayam and Mamta
Shekhar Iyer: Pranab was not Sonia's choice. The Congress president would have preferred someone who is not "too intelligent" for that office and would not be politically ambitious as Pranab. But, events, for the first time, overtook her.
Mamata's open rejection of Pranab set off events, which saw powerful allies like Sharad Pawar and DMK chief M Karunanidhi pitching for him. Sonia did not want to appear to go against their wishes when support for Pranab had grown beyond proportions.
GaneshNadar asked: As Sharad Yadav is one of the proposers for Pranabda shoud the NDA commit suicide in shame
Shekhar Iyer: I am taking your second question too...It's not the NDA that is looking silly. It is the BJP which failed to read the minds of its allies first -- before scouting for new ones! The blame singularly would go to Advani who was hyper active, thanks to his aides who thought this election would pitch fork him back in the centre stage of BJP's internal politics!
sg asked: Whom do you think Mamata (TMC) is going to support in this presidential election and why?
Shekhar Iyer: Mamata has two options: announce her party will abstain or let some time pass, and finally announce support for Pranab. Her biggest worry -- if she decided to vote against Pranab --is her party MPs will "cross vote" in his favour, which will be black mark on her face and grip over the Trinamool Congress.
On the other hand, she can regain her stature as pan Bengal leader by announcing support for Pranab just before July 19 when the poll will be held.
Rayudugaru asked: Can 1969 still be repeated in 2012?
Shekhar Iyer: Rayudugaru, I doubt 2012 can be 1969. There is no Indira Gandhi, VV Giri, Kamaraj, S Nijalingappa...Besides, corporate entities are very active in this election. A call for conscience vote will mean, as LK Advani said recently, will look like a conspiracy than a virtue!
Rasheed asked: Where does her father's follies leave Agatha Sangma, then?
Shekhar Iyer: Agatha will find it extremely difficult to continue as a Union minister as she is already out campaigning for her father. In fact, Congress leaders made it clear only yesterday that she would have to quit even if she goes around the banner of Tribal Forum of India to seek support for her father.
Suppandi asked: Please please tell us what really happened at the Kalam-Sonia meeting in 2004. Did he dissuade her from becoming PM? Everyone remembers the lady from 1999, when she gloated that she had 272 MPs with her -- but did she really want to become prime minister? She thinks it is so simple, we Indians are a bunch of natives waiting for the white skin to grant us deliverance?
Shekhar Iyer: There is no authentic version of that episode but one thing was clear then. Sonia came back to her 10, Janpath home from Rashtrapati Bhavan in deep thought. What did Kalam tell her that made her go into a huddle with her family, and then come out to announce she can't accept to become PM.
Did Kalam tell Sonia about the element of reciprocity in the citizenship rules governing India and Italy? Did he draw attention to Italy denying a person of Indian origin from assuming office after contesting for a mayoral election? Mystery may be cleared if Kalam breaks his silence.
prat asked: Do u think yeddy will support pranabda afteer satyananda supporting nityananda in ka... ?
Shekhar Iyer answers: Yeddy may not now openly defy the BJP core group's decision to support Sangma. Besides, there is a talk of leadership change in Karnataka again. Yeddy is watch that before telling his supporters what to do
Chennai asked: Can you envisage Modi as PM? Will Indian Muslims ever accept him?
Shekhar Iyer answers: Modi can become PM if the BJP gets over 200 seats and he has worked to get that number.
On today's date, it is a TALL order for anyone. As for the Indian Muslims, they are very hurt by what happened in Gujarat in 2002. He is yet to address their feelings, which he must if he wants to play a national role.
The other day, even Sharad Pawar who enjoys a good equation with Modi, has said the country needs a leader who is not hated by any section. Modi had an opportunity last year.
Whether he likes it or not. he has to reach out to those men and women and children who lost their dear ones. Modi has to become human and end acting like a development robot!
Akhil asked: Don't you think that Dr APJ Abdul Kalam is best suited for the presidential post considering his popularity and clean image among the masses and the work he has done for India? What was the need that our Finance Minister had to resign to fill this vital post and that too when he was seeking prime minister's office for the last few years?
Shekhar Iyer: Kalam was no doubt a remarkable President. He changed the perception of that office. But, having said, I must tell you that Kalam did not desire a second term even at the end of the first one, five years ago.
Since he left Rashtrapati Bhavan, Kalam's popularity has only soared and he does not need any office to do what he's doing: inspiring our youth.
Amitava asked: Won't the hand of the Left be strengthened once Pranab becomes President? Pranab is known in Bengal as close to CPI-M rather than his own party.
Shekhar Iyer: I don't think so. Everything depends on what happens in 2014 elections. If the Left can perform better in West Bengal and Kerala, then they will be in a position to influence the formation of the next government.
Pranab has always had support of the Left to enter the Rajya Sabha several times. Secondly, Pranab never let the local Congress grow to challenge them after the exit of leaders like S S Ray
geeta asked: Can shri Pranav Mukherji advised the new finance minister about indian economics and financed
Shekhar Iyer: Geeta, Pranab has some plans to play an active role in his new role. But the Prime Minister may not appreciate his advices, considering that both differed on prescriptions for boosting the economy. He will, no doubt, be a strong critic of the government!
JJJ asked: Who in your opinion would have been the best president of India at this moment of times when we are ailing with the major charges of corruption & black money?
Shekhar Iyer: The list is endless...our honest scientists, doctors, bankers, lawyers, business leaders and countless professionals like Delhi metro Sreedharan, Dr M A Swaminathan, Ila Bhatt, Mahasweta Devi, Wipro boss Azim Premji, Infoys' mentor Narayanmurthy... all these people would brought grace to that office.
same asked: what you think, why Sonia Gandhi choose Pranab da for president ?
Shekhar Iyer: Sonia realised that she should not let the mystery over the Congress candidate linger any further when support had grown for him. Her concern was that the UPA must remain intact though she could not help the rift with Mamata.
ROHIT asked: hope pranabda is not a rubber stamp president if elected or for that matter Mr.Sangma as well.
Shekhar Iyer answers: Certainly not, Rohit. Pranab will like to leave a mark behind.
munni asked: Your statement about Modi is not correct. He is the most secular leader in India. In his state, there have been no riots or communal clashes for the past 10 years. Which other Chief minister can claim this achievement?
His record on development cannot be achieved by any other CM. Further, the Commission of enquiry has acquitted him of all charges.Then why should be apologise? Only obscurantists or pseudo secularists like you can make such statements.
Shekhar Iyer: If Modi apologises, his acceptance will only grow. No body questions his achievement. He has all the qualities to make an effective leader at the centre. But people love those who appear willing to make amends, caring and ability to emote. I am sure Modi will choose his timing.
prakash asked: Dear shekhar ji, What about the status of BJD as they are supporting sangma. What benefit they are going to get and what is the future of naveen patnaik
Shekhar Iyer: BJD will support Sangma. For Naveen Patnaik, this is one way of reaching out to tribals in his state, who are more than 35 per cent. Naveen will hope to put the past incidents like Kandhamal clashes behind him as he seeks another term in 2014.
Venganna asked: Why is no one talking about the Reliance angle here? Shekhar, you are also silent on it?
Shekhar Iyer: Venganna, it is no secret that Pranab and Dhirubhai enjoyed best of relations. Dhirubhai respected Pranab's economic wisdom and grew under his guidance. His sons, both Mukesh and Anil, respect him immensely. They call him, "uncle".
And when they were at loggerheads, Pranab did not mince words in telling them to settle their issues -- in deference to their legendary father and ever caring mother, Kokila. Therefore, is it any surprise, that both the Ambani brothers want their uncle to be elected unopposed!