President Hamid Ansari? The man is, of course, the quiet ex-diplomat who does not normally grace the covers of national magazines. But the current V-P is also the man most likely to make the move to Rashtrapati Bhavan, come July 25. Indeed, the moves to make him the 13th president of India and the counter moves to deny him is the story of the day. The great irony of the times is that with the prime ministerial office diminished, the ruling UPA feels it must redeem its dignity by anointing a president of its choice. Apparently, the Gandhis are in favour of Ansari. So to get him the job the Congress will reach out to the Left and possibly ignore Mamata Banerjee’s objections. If that happens, as some Congress leaders are indicating, it’ll indicate a subtle political realignment.
Although a ceremonial post, the next president will decide whom to invite to form a government in 2014. That would be the moment of great power for the new Rashtrapati. So on July 25, when the new president is sworn in, will it be the current vice-president who takes on the exalted mantle? He would have had a relatively easier ride to the high office but for the events of December 29 when, as chairman of the Rajya Sabha, he adjourned the House at midnight and marked the end of the winter session of Parliament before voting on the contentious Lokpal bill. He lost many friends that day, particularly among the smaller parties. The BJP members still insist he acted on behalf of the ruling party. They say they will not be happy with a Hamid Ansari candidacy.
Photograph by Sanjay Rawat
Hamid Ansari, Vice-President
USP Suave, secular scholar-diplomat from an Ansari family in UP with powerful friends in politics, business and the world stage.
Backers Congress first choice but has fallen foul of the BJP and even the Left after an RS session on Lokpal debate. Yet the Left will back him and that makes him suspect in Mamata Banerjee’s eyes.
Since then, the presidential plot has thickened as another Bengali has thrown his hat in, creating a dilemma for the Congress. Well-placed sources reveal that Union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee has told Sonia Gandhi that he would like to “be relieved” of political work. It’s no secret that he would like to be elevated to the office of president. Pranab is the Congress candidate on whom a consensus could be built as he has good relations across the political spectrum. But in 2007 too, before Pratibha Patil’s name came in out of the blue, a Left leader had asked the Congress: “why not Pranabda?”. Sonia Gandhi had then answered, “if we let him go, who will run the government?”
Photograph by Jitender Gupta
Mulayam S. Yadav, SP chief
USP The regional satrap sees himself as a big national player
Backers Putting up APJ Kalam was his idea and he is floating the name again, though could back Ansari. If Congress gets into a corner, could offer him vice-presidency. But the Yadav may play a less visible game of extraction. Son Akhilesh Yadav does need central funds in UP.
The plan that has been put into motion is to see how much support Hamid Ansari can garner, as Sonia is believed to be impressed by the erudite vice-president. It’s early days yet but the arithmetic done by Congress managers itself holds up very interesting scenarios—it excludes the Trinamool Congress but includes the votes of the Left parties. A Congress leader poses the question: “Don’t you think the presidential election provides the format for a larger realignment?” Sources in the Left have also indicated to Outlook that since they supported Ansari as vice-president, they would back him if his name is proposed for president.
Pranab Mukherjee, FM
USP Hugely experienced in political affairs and knowledgeable about constitutional mechanisms and managing coalitions
Backers With friends across parties, including BJP, Pranab has the numbers but crisis-ridden UPA is overly dependent on his trouble-shooting skills. Distrusted by ally Trinamool after Dinesh Trivedi episode.
Quite true. But the Congress has not been in a good place for over a year and alienating an ally could be risky. Hence the other plan in operation. The thinking here is that there are two parties who cannot be seen to be playing to a regional plan that ultimately benefits the BJP. These are the SP, TMC and perhaps even the BSP. So this plan operates on the principle that Mulayam Singh Yadav, who has the largest chunk of votes after the Congress and BJP, should be the one to get Mamata around. Sources in both the Congress and Left parties believe that Mulayam too cannot say no to the candidacy of Ansari as he’s from a well-known Uttar Pradesh family. They also hope that he can get Mamata to see that Ansari is not a Communist agent.
Photograph by Narendra Bisht
Jaswant Singh, BJP
USP Sophisticated Thakur who could come in handy if 2014 polls give a hung verdict.
Backers NDA doesn’t have the numbers but neither does UPA. Faced with the prospect of propping up SAD’s Parkash Singh Badal, BJP might give the Thakur a half-hearted look-see. But Bhairon Singh Shekhawat fiasco is still in mind.
Now Kalam could get another go at the presidency only through a bloc of regional parties insisting that the “people’s president” get another chance (the Tamil Nadu parties would be on board). The BJP will back him as he was in any case an NDA nominee. The idea then would be to bulldoze the Congress into accepting Kalam. The real purpose of such a manoeuvre would be to humiliate the Congress. It remains within the realm of possibility only if Kalam himself were to agree to play along.
But then, as a powerful NDA ally says: “On an issue like the presidential nomination, it’s better to have a consensus.” Still, it’s known that the BJP is spoiling for a fight but they can only give one if the pawns on the chessboard fall into place. Since between Congress plans and BJP hopes there is now a chunk of regional forces, the moves can be complex and the game can change suddenly. The BJD, for instance, would like to go with a regional consensus but they are aware it may not evolve. Sources also reveal this nugget that Hamid Ansari had visited Orissa over a month back and had an excellent interaction with CM Naveen Patnaik. The other big party in any political calculation is the BSP but till now it has not joined any regional front or revealed its hand. Yet it could go along with Ansari because of the UP link and the need for a working arrangement with the Congress.
A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, Ex-Prez
USP Been there, done that, still quite the “people’s president”.
Backers The ex-president has given no indication that he’s interested in a second stint, but TMC sees a chance to poop UPA’s party and Mulayam keeps sending mixed signals. Never quite a Congress favourite, UPA still grateful for his role in defusing Koodankulam protests.
The Congress will first try for both posts and if the Left plays along, they could manage it. But only if the invisible forces that move deals and arrangements lend a generous helping hand. Besides Ansari and Pranab, there are other names doing the rounds in the Congress too, such as Meira Kumar and Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi. The back story for the Gogoi candidature is that he’s been CM for so long that now he’s ready for other things. If things go wrong with Ansari and Pranab, then the plan apparently is to mollify Mamata and Naveen Patnaik with a candidate from eastern India. From the east there’s also the balloon of former speaker P.A. Sangma, and the two evergreen presidential candidates—Dr Karan Singh and Farooq Abdullah.
Short of numbers they may be, but the BJP is not short of names. There are many presidential balloons floating around, starting with Punjab CM Parkash Singh Badal, Ram Jethmalani and Jaswant Singh. One joke is that Jaswant should be given the job “because he looks and acts presidential”. The other one is that since L.K. Advani could not become PM perhaps the party should back him for president. Hopes do run high when it’s the season of the Rashtrapati.
The Great Indian Presidential Poll Waltz
Congress backroom boys have pencilled 17 parties including CPI and CPI(M)—but excluding Trinamool—as likely to support its candidate. These parties in all have 296 seats in the Lok Sabha. But with 5,28,211 votes, UPA will still be 21,230 votes short of the halfway mark of 5,49,441.
Despite Congress non-show in recent elections, NDA is behind UPA in numbers. With traditional allies JD(U), Shiromani Akali Dal, and Shiv Sena, and possibly AIADMK support, NDA will be able to mobilise 3.32 lakh votes. Even if Trinamool backs NDA candidate, it will fall short.
Apropos of your cover story, The August Question (Apr 30), isn’t it ironical that the top post in the world’s largest democracy is a topic of political strategies, votebank posturing, cheap intra- and inter-party games rather than an offering to the most deserving, capable, respected person? Look at the list of presidents we had. The first three (Rajendra Prasad, Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan and Zakir Hussain) were eminent Indians and well deserved the post. After this, the decay started. All we had were political appointees who were loyal to the ‘first family’ and served their interests well. Except for one, Dr A.P.J. Kalam. He was among the best presidents India has had and his five-year term was an honourable one. Thanks to Sonia Gandhi’s imperious fiat, he was not offered a second term and instead we got a president whose credentials were dubious and track record a laughing stock.
Ravi, on e-mail
Whether political or apolitical, what we need is a right-thinking candidate—like N.R. Narayana Murthy or the tried and tested Abdul Kalam. Parties must not involve the new incumbent in the cesspool of political bickering and tarnish the image of the presidency.
K.C. Kumar, Bangalore
I hope Dr Kalam and Mr Ansari will decline the invitation to become president because time and again it is repeated that they qualify because of their Muslim faith. Is this any way to start a new term?
Who do we want as president of India? Someone of impeccable character, who is not a politician, is sagacious, mature, secular, articulate, personable, well-educated and experienced in governance with a thorough knowledge of constitutional matters. No one fits this description better than Gopal Gandhi who, as president, would certainly do the nation proud. And Tara Gandhi would be the perfect first lady—representing in her person the best and most cherished of Indian values.
Anjolie Ela Menon, on e-mail
RJD leader Laloo Prasad Yadav’s suggestion for the elevation of Hamid Ansari is a sensible one. Suave and literate, he scarcely put a foot wrong as vice-president—except, of course, during that midnight mayhem in the Rajya Sabha.
K.P. Rajan, Mumbai
In all likelihood, it will be Pranab Mukherjee who gets sworn in by August 2012. Barring a minor discrepancy, the veteran has always been a loyal soldier of the Gandhis and the Congress party.
Venkatesh G. Iyer, Chennai
Will anyone remember that the country ever had a president by the name Pratibha Patil after July 2012? If at all she is remembered, it will be for the Rs 205 cr holiday trips with family to foreign lands.
Gilbert D’Souza, Bangalore
The office of president is ceremonial and must go to a person deemed an ornament of India. Dr Kalam is the best choice.
J.N. Bhartiya, Hyderabad
In the debate on the next president, one issue shouldn’t be lost sight of—26/11 accused Kasab’s mercy petition will come up before the next prez. Closure for all of us will only happen with his hanging. A president who gives Kasab another five years of chicken biriyani at state expense has no place in Rashtrapati Bhavan.
C.A. Chaly, Kochi
Dr Karan Singh, who missed out on the coveted post earlier due to comrade Prakash Karat’s objections, is the best choice. A scholar, a patriot and acceptable to all. If not him, Pranabda is the next best choice. This is the last chance for him. He should quit the Congress if he’s not offered the post.
K.R. Rao, Vijayawada
A non-political person would be the right choice for President of India. All the candidates whose names have been floated should be dropped.
S.K. Jha, Darbhanga
Really, how does it matter who the president is in our country? You might as well have a Tendulkar or a Salman Khan. I’m sure they will do better than some of the jokers we’ve had in the past. PS: Why not Ratan Tata, a dignified candidate for the high office?
Ravi Bedi, Jodhpur
Please sign this online petition to support Sachin for President of India.
Waiting for the new president as early as possible, who ever he/she is. The present one has been an apology for the post; I wonder how ' those there ' selected the most uncharismatic and unimpressive among indians as the country's president.Besides being so, activities of her immediate family members in Marathawada area and now what is going on in Pune Cantt make her a pathetic head of the nation.
I request both Mr Abdul Kalam and Hamid Ansari to decline the invitation of becoming the President of Inda because the only qualification that has been time and again being given is theirs being of Muslim faith. I am sure that they can also see the machination of politicians and they must resist the effort of these pseudo secularists.
The next President will have to oversee the Parliamentary elections in 2014, whose outcome is most likely to be a hung parliament. This would make the office of the President and his/her knowledge of the Constitution extremely crucial. The choice of President should be made keeping this very important issue in mind. The President will also have to be politically unbiased and mature, to deal effectively with all the horse-tradng that will undoubtedly ensue. Is there such a candidate anywhere, and more importantly will our current government rise above parochialism and self-interest to elect such a person?
Congress (Indira) is now called the Congress. It will sound better if it calls itself Congress (G)! Ever since, its nominees elected were definitely NO way better thanothers who became Presidents. By no stretch of imagination, there can be any comparision between her and Kalam.
Can any one educate me as to what is her contribution to the nation? - except making her post retiement life comfortable in Pune! Abdul Kalam, who is simple, highly educated with a robust contribution to the country in his field. Most important is that he truly a Non-Politician!
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