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Sonia, CPM wage battle of nerves over President's poll
Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi
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June 14, 2007

Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh [Images] has no business appointment for today till a consensus is reached within the United Progressive Alliance and its allies over Congress president Sonia Gandhi's choice for the post of President.

The task has become difficult and somewhat risky for the UPA's politics.

The chief negotiator of the day in the muddied process of selecting a presidential candidate is Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi.

If on June 12 Mayawati encashed her political importance over the presidency, then Karunanidhi is the star of the day.

In the morning Karunanidhi met Communist leaders Prakash Karat, A B Bardhan and D Raja, after which he met Dr Singh and Sonia Gandhi.
But, in the process, the battle of nerves between the Congress and the Communist Party of India-Marxist has created a political stir in New Delhi.

The presidential poll is fast becoming a race for posturing by political parties, all of who are keeping an eye on the general election scheduled for 2009.
The tussle between the UPA and the Left over Pranab Mukherjee's candidature has created bad blood. But Mukherjee is just an excuse.
The Congress is blaming the CPM for its premature backing of Mukherjee for the post of President.
Home Minister Shivraj Patil , Power Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde, and veteran Congressman from Kashmir, Karan Singh, are Sonia Gandhi's choice for the post of  President, it was revealed by Karunanidhi late last night.

The argument goes, when it was decided that the next Presidential nominee will be from the Congress why did the CPM not leave the issue entirely to the Congress president?

Sumit Chakravartty, editor of the leftist publication Mainstream, says, "The Left could not dictate to Congress the name of any Congressman."

"Once the Congress has won the confidence of its allies like the DMK and BSP, the Left should have gone along with it."

He said, "Comrade [Harkishen Singh] Surjeet would have not taken a stand like Prakash Karat. Karat is taking a hard line on the issue."
Pranab Mukherjee is being backed by the Left parties for his independent line on Iran and related matters. He had excellent relations with Surjeet, which is helping him understand the Left's maneuverings inside and outside the party. Plus, on the issue of Nandigram and SEZs he has not taken a stand, thus helping the Left parties.
A senior Left leader said lightly, "Patil and Mukherjee can't be compared. The Left is irked by the fact that inside his office Patil has built a temple of sorts."

Patil is a well-known follower of Puttaparthi's Sathya Sai baba.
Those who know Sonia Gandhi are aware that she would never favour Pranab Mukherjee. Only last year, in a press conference, she had rejected the idea of a deputy prime minister. Dr Singh was seated next to Sonia Gandhi when a journalist asked her about the speculation over the UPA government having a DPM. Sonia's refusal then was emphatic.

Similarly, during the last Cabinet reshuffle, the Pranab camp was almost certain that he will be given the home ministry. But, instead, he was made minister for external affairs. It must be so awkward and acutely embarrassing for the intellectual Mukherjee that during the  selection of candidate for the post of President people are led to believe that he remains "the most important politician in the government", but is still not worthy enough to be trusted by the party chief.

How Pranab will take this humiliation will be a story for later.

Right now, the CPI-M is getting a fitting reply from Sonia Gandhi for backing Mukherjee.
And Mrs Gandhi should not be blamed for this, believe Congressmen.
Much before the Congress could start the process of evolving a consensus within the UPA for the President's post, Marxist Sitaram Yechury launched Mukherjee as the Left's choice. This alerted the Congress, which became suspicious of the CPI-M's hidden agenda, if any.
It is believed that the next President would be required to play an important role after the general election of 2009.

As the Indian elections are becoming more complex than ever due to the strengthening of regional, caste-based and communal forces, Constitutional crises are not ruled out before or after forming the next government. In the absence of a strong presence by the national parties in New Delhi, the President's Constitutional assessment in complex political situations can become an important function in coming years.

Obviously the Congress, which is in a pivotal position today with an opportunity to nominate the next President, wants to take no chance.   
Media-persons are told in off-the-record briefings that Mukherjee can't be relieved of his job because he is Chanakya within the government, and takes most of the political decisions. He is also known as a walking encyclopedia on contemporary Indian politics.

But the Left parties are not to give in so easily, and struck back by revealing their displeasure against Shivraj Patil, Mrs Gandhi's preferred choice. They find Patil too weak for the post of President.
Sonia Gandhi then hit back by cajoling the BSP's Mayawati like never before. She let the Uttar Pradesh chief minister bask in glory by making her feel important in the whole process of 'making of the next Indian president'.

At her press conference the Left parties were given a curt message by Mayawati that she has discussed two-three names but she agrees with Mrs Gandhi on one name. She added that Mrs Gandhi is the right person to reveal the name.
The message was clear, that Mayawati's votes were cornered and now what the Left parties can do is to have a reality check.

Not only that, yesterday the Congress forced Mukherjee to come out with a press release that 'the chairperson of the UPA (Sonia Gandhi) will announce the name of the Congress candidate for the presidential election after completing the process of  consultation with UPA allies and supporting parties'.

This statement is very important for the sake of history, so that people should know who was the kingmaker in 2007.

Whoever becomes the candidate, Mrs Gandhi will be named the kingmaker. And the Left has also been given its message.

So how far can the Left go now, ask Congressmen.
Meanwhile, Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, Vice President and an aspirant for the post of President, is sitting pretty because all indications are that anti-Congress and non-UPA parties are not going to bring in a third candidate.
By today evening if the UPA announces Patil's or any other name then the battle lines will be drawn. The Shekhawat camp is confident that it will put up a formidable fight if Patil is nominated.
Meaning, on the issue of selecting the President of India, which is considered to be a decorative post in normal times, people will see much more politics.
The political games between parties and among allies have hotted up so much that from New Delhi it's possible to give a running commentary on the eve of the presidential election.

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