The presidential term of President Pratibha Patil is due to expire in July 2012 and speculation seems to have already commenced in the power circles of New Delhi about her successor. The July 2012 Presidential Elections are crucial for the Congress Party as whoever is elected as President would be overseeing the 2014 General Elections which promise to be hotly contested and with the Congress Party at a disadvantage with Indian public opinion in the manner its Government handled the social activists movements of Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev on issues of corruption. The next President is likely to emerge as the sole and powerful arbiter as to who forms the next Government in case of hung verdicts and questionable hurriedly cobbled coalitions. With 2014 Elections scripted for launch of Rahul Gandhi as Prime Minister the choice of Congress Party nominee for President becomes even more crucial.
The Congress Party is most likely to opt for a seasoned political leader and with lots of political reputation to handle the tricky outcomes that may emerge in the 2014 Elections verdict. The Congress Party would also prefer that its presidential nominee should have wider political acceptability including the Opposition. On this score the Congress political leader who emerges as most qualified on the points stated above seems to be the present Finance Minister Pranab Mukherji.
Finance Minister Pranab Mukherji is the senior most Congress Party leader and with a formidable reputation for being the Congress Party’s valued trouble-shooter. This year he seemed to have been sidelined during Anna Hazare’s massive agitation on corruption by the likes of Kapil Sibal and Chidambaram considered being close to 10 Janpath. When the agitation spiraled out of control of these two Congress leaders the Congress President had no choice but to request Finance Minister Mukherji to step in and retrieve the situation.
The other name doing the rounds for the next President is that of current Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh. He is credited for having served as the Prime Minister for two terms on being anointed as such by the Congress Party President Sonia Gandhi. His loyalty to the Congress Party President is credible as many in the media speculated that he had been chosen as Prime Minister to keep the “throne” as regent till such time Rahul Gandhi was ready to assume the responsibilities. The problem with Dr Manmohan Singh is that in the last two years his image has taken a severe political beating both in terms of effective governance, tolerance of massive corruption within his Cabinet and an utter helplessness in controlling events politically.
Can the Congress Party therefore afford to have Dr Manmohan Singh in the Presidential chair when the 2014 General Elections take place? Would his lack of political savviness and craftiness not be a stumbling block in the Congress Party’s blueprint to facilitate Rahul Gandhi’s emergence as Prime Minister in the 2014 General Elections?
Curiously, the third name that is being speculated as the Congress Party nominee for President- ship next year is that of Home Minister Chidambaram. He showed great promise and decisiveness after Mumbai 26/11 blasts but regrettably that promise seems to have slipped away after his alleged lack of supervision of the 2G scam as Finance Minister. Said to be close to 10 Janpath but his recent record may affect his chances.
From the ranks of the Opposition Parties no worthwhile contender for nominee as President has yet surfaced. I think that they would adopt hedging strategies and come up with the name of their candidate only after the Congress Party firms-in on its nominee.