The race for the Rashtrapathi Bhavan could not have got curioser. There are so many hats in the ring thrown by different political combines.

The Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and the All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) fired the first salvo on May 16, jointly projecting the former Speaker, Mr P. A. Sangma, as their choice for the President.

“He is the most appropriate candidate for the post”, declared Mr Navin Patnaik, while Ms J. Jayalalithaa went so far as to say that the AIADMK “takes pride” in supporting his candidature, since he “not only belongs to a tribal community but is also eminently qualified to be the President of our great Nation”.

Significantly, she added that the AIADMK's decision was taken after due internal consultation as well as discussions with Odisha Chief Minister and Biju Janata Dal President, Mr Patnaik.

In other words, Ms Jayalalithaa and Mr Patnaik, both as Chief Ministers and as the supremos of their respective parties are formally, and, as is apparent from their language, irrevocably, committed to bringing about Mr.Sangma's election.

Now, two more party chiefs, Ms Mamata Banerjee of the Trinamool Congress (TMC) and Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party (SP), have let the cat among the pigeons by coming out with their panel of three names: The former President, Mr Abdul Kalam, the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, and the veteran parliamentarian and former Speaker, Mr Somnath Chatterjee.

From all that they have let it be known, it would seem that the duo would be comfortable with any one of them, although tilting, according to some reports, towards Mr Kalam.

POKER GAME

There has been no authoritative indication so far from either the Congress or the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) as to their preference.

But from what Ms Banerjee disclosed after she met the Chairperson of the UPA, Ms Sonia Gandhi, their first favourite was the Finance Minister, Mr Pranab Mukherjee, followed by the Vice-President, Mr Hamid Ansari.

The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and its leading constituent, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), have been biding their time, wanting the ruling Alliance (UPA) to show its hand first.

But now that its names have gone viral, there could be no further excuse for the NDA/BJP not to follow suit.

It is quite likely that it will be happy to opt for Mr Kalam whom it had worked hard to install as President when it was in power.

I am not going to be reckless enough to attempt any prediction as to the outcome of the poker game that will be played out by the four combatants — Congress-UPA, BJP-NDA, TMC-SP and AIADMK-BJD — seated round the table.

As at the time of writing, all bets are off. Let the game unravel as it may.

However, I am not among those who are aghast at the happenings, as if the Heavens have fallen. A crowded field is not necessarily bad, since the choice, thereby, becomes as wide as possible.

So long as the proposed candidates are of stature and impeccable credentials, there is no harm in letting a hundred flowers bloom and hundred thoughts contend. All the candidates in the field more or less fill the bill.

AURA OF INVINCIBILITY

While I am not aghast, I am certainly fascinated. For one thing, whichever way the cookie turns, poor Mr Pranab Mukherjee is virtually out of the race.

The NDA/BJP never forgave him for his excesses during the Emergency of 1975-77 and could never have accepted him; and now, with the Didi too showing thumbs down for him, his goose is cooked.

For another, I have a feeling that Ms Mamata Banerjee and Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav were not speaking and acting for themselves alone, but that some sections of the Congress/UPA also were firing over their shoulders.

They perhaps thought Dr Singh's exit was essential to stop the country going further downhill, and kicking him upstairs was the only decent way out.

Third, just as 40 years ago the era of single party (Congress) dominance in Indian politics came to an end, the run-up to the Presidential election in 2012 signals the end of the dominance of the so-called national parties, with State and regional parties using the whip to steer the course of events their way.

Finally, Ms Banerjee has certainly robbed Ms Gandhi of her aura of invincibility. It will be all to the good if this encourages independent and bold thinking in her party.

(This article was published on June 14, 2012)
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