The Congress Party finds itself caught in a bind by the decision of the Samajwadi Party of Mulayam Singh Yadav and the Trinamool Congress of Ms Mamata Banerjee to propose in public their own options as possible presidential candidates which are totally different from the preferences of the Congress.
According to the TMC, the preferences of the Congress are Mr Pranab Mukherjee , the finance minister, and Dr Hamid Ansari, the Vice-President. Mr Yadav and Ms Banerjee have sought to circumvent the preferences of the Congress without having to reject them by proposing three options of their own, namely, Dr.Abdul Kalam, former President, Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and Mr Somnath Chatterjee, former Speaker of the Lok Sabha.
Through their preferences indicated in public, Mr Yadav and Ms Banerjee have sought to convey three messages to Mrs Sonia Gandhi, the Congress President.
- The political paralysis and the economic melt-down in the country can be broken only by changing the Prime Minister without humiliating him.
- The only way of doing so will be by elevating him as the President.
- If Mrs.Sonia Gandhi wants a Congress candidate as the President, it can be only Dr Manmohan Singh and not Mr Pranab Mukherjee.
The Congress is now facing two cruel alternatives both of which could cause it a loss of face.
- Firstly, it defiantly goes ahead with the candidature of Mr Pranab Mukherjee hoping that he could somehow scrape through. This could be unlikely if the SP and the TMC manage to persuade Dr Kalam to contest against Pranabda. If Kalam is a candidate against Pranabda, the NDA allies and the Tamil parties from Tamil Nadu may join the SP and the TMC in supporting him thereby making it difficult for Pranabda to win. Mr Karunanidhi has hinted on many occasions that while he may have no problem in supporting Pranabda, the situation could change for his party if there is a son of the soil from Tamil Nadu in the fray.
- Secondly or alternatively, the Congress could accept the face-saving offered by the SP and the TMC by dumping Pranabda and persuading Dr Manmohan Singh to contest the Presidential poll. Such a decision by the Congress could have a negative impact on both Pranabda and Dr MMS and could be seen as a loss of face by both of them.
This could create a serious crisis in the Congress, thereby further damaging its authority and credibility and further affecting its ability to continue to govern the country. If a non-Congress candidate such as Abdul Kalam becomes the President, the Congress may not be able to suggest new elections at a time of its choosing because the President may not accept its recommendation.
From the developments of June 13, it is fairly clear that by its ham-handed handling of the search for a Presidential candidate, the Congress Party has lost control of the political ground situation. Whichever way the situation evolves, it will be seen as a loss of face for the Congress.
The definite loss for the Congress need not necessarily be a definite gain for the opposition parties because their political incompatibilities are bound to come out in the open and render the situation intractable as the Presidential elections approach.
B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi,and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies