How to make friends and play politics

The writing on the wall is clear. Every political actor has his/her eye on the next general election and all options are open for everyone.

As was expected by almost everyone, except the graceless loser, P.A. Sangma, Pranab Mukherjee has sailed through to Rashtrapati Bhavan. He has indeed won with an even bigger margin than was anticipated. Not only the Samajwadi Party of Mulayam Singh Yadav and the Bahujan Samaj Party of Mayawati, but also such BJP allies as the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra and the Janata Dal (United) in Bihar willingly extended support to him.

At the last minute even the recalcitrant Mamata Banerjee came around, albeit “painfully”. This had more to do with the new President’s personal qualities and record than the skill of the Congress Party’s strategists who haven’t yet stopped patting themselves on the back.
Another reason why the presidential race has gone the way it has is Mr Sangma’s loudly proclaimed conviction that there would be a lot of cross voting in the secret ballot, and dissidents within the Congress and among its motley allies would vote for him. His clinching hope was that every single tribal legislator across the country, regardless of party affiliation, would rally around him. This turned out to be a dangerous delusion. Mr Sangma couldn’t win majority even in his home state of Meghalaya, leave alone other tribal regions. Ironically, the only cross voting that took place was by the dissidents in the BJP in Karnataka!
Then there is something that should make both Mr Sangma and his enthusiastic backers in the BJP worry. He knew that the sponsorship of his candidature by the chief ministers of Tamil Nadu and Orissa, J. Jayalalithaa and Naveen Patnaik respectively, wasn’t enough. He, therefore, sought the BJP’s support. Mr Sangma, however, failed to realise that the saffron party’s backing was both an asset and a liability. Some who might have voted for him turned away because they consider any association with the saffron party to be a “kiss of death”.
For its part, the BJP must also rue the day when it took contradictory decisions one after the other. It had painted itself into a corner by exuberantly proclaiming A.P.J. Abdul Kalam to be its nominee and then being befuddled when he left it (and Ms Banerjee’s Trinamul Congress) in the lurch. Its sudden embrace of Mr Sangma exposed it to the charge of opportunism. The BJP hoped that this move would bring the parties of Ms Jayalalithaa and Mr Patnaik closer to it. But the BJP leaders seemed to forget that in 1999 Ms Jayalalithaa had brought down the Atal Behari Vajpayee government, and Mr Patnaik had broken all relations with the saffron party in 2009. No wonder both the chief ministers chose not to join the BJP in campaigning for Mr Sangma though they delivered him the promised votes. Ms Jayalalithaa, in fact, went away on a holiday.
Let not the Congress jump with joy over this. Its victory celebrations have been disrupted by the bombshell thrown by the Nationalist Congress Party’s leader, Sharad Pawar, until now the least troublesome ally. For the present the NCP top brass has deferred a decision on whether to quit the UPA or not. But it does not matter what decision is eventually taken because mutual distrust between the two sides is deep, and the outlook seems bleak. With only nine Lok Sabha MPs, the NCP can do little harm to the UPA in Delhi. But Maharashtra is the real battlefield. So much so that Mr Pawar wants the state chief minister, Prithviraj Chavan, removed, which the Congress cannot possibly do. Andhra Pradesh was the Congress’ bastion; it has been foolish enough to virtually destroy it. Is Maharashtra, the second-largest state the Congress and the NCP are supposed to be governing jointly, going to meet the same fate?
Those who had thought that after having to eat the humble pie, Mamatadi had been chastened must think again. On Martyrs’ Day last week, she served notice that having gone it alone in the municipal elections, she would do so in the coming panchayat elections and would like to do it again in the general election in 2014 or earlier. She has also announced that her government would not pay to the Centre interest on the humongous debt the Left Front ministry in West Bengal had been allowed to pile up. Moreover, she has threatened a Long March in the national capital.
Mulayam Singh Yadav is almost certain to come to the UPA’s rescue when needed. But his talk of a 2013 general election has become frequent, and he has delivered a big blow to the Prime Minister’s plan to start a fresh and belated phase of economic reforms by opening the gates for FDI in multi-brand retail trade. Together with the Left Front and the Janata Dal (Secular), Mr Yadav has written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to desist. The writing on the wall is clear: Every political actor has his/her eye on the next general election and all options are open for everyone.
Two other points need to be made. First, many are already asking whether, as President, Mr Mukherjee would tilt towards the Congress, especially if the next Lok Sabha is much more fragmented than the present one. The simple answer is that next only to Rajendra Prasad, India’s first President, Pranabda is the tallest and most mature politician to become the head of state. There is absolutely no reason to doubt his assurance that he would do his duty to preserve, protect and uphold the Constitution.
Second, during the month-long campaign for the President’s post, Mr Sangma made frivolous and even false allegations against Mr Mukherjee. These are best forgotten, but not his complaint that the grant of huge “economic packages” to Uttar Pradesh and Bihar in the midst of elections had a stench of impropriety.
The outcome of the presidential poll would have been no different if the largesse were postponed beyond July 19. The Congress must explain why it was in a hell of a hurry.

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